Let Us Breathe

Spokane joins national protests over the failure to indict white officers for killing black civilians

By now, you've probably decided to care, or not care, about the #BlackLivesMatter campaign sweeping America. Translated for black families: You've decided to care or not care about us.

Joining the national movement calling for justice and an end to police brutality, Spokane has rallied, marched and circulated petitions. We have not been silent. From the protests this October at Eastern Washington University that started the momentum with memorial tributes to 25 black victims of police shootings, to the formal campus forum about the implications of Ferguson and demands for institutional change, to the downtown Spokane die-in and Mile For Michael walk, students here have set the pace for social justice activism. This renewed sense of purpose, urgency and organized action has mobilized young leaders across the land of the free and the home of the brave to believe that resistance and revolution can in fact catalyze justice.

And it's not just young leaders in America. Solidarity protests from Japan to Australia and India to Palestine are rallying with #BlackLivesMatter marches, sending messages of support to black families reeling from burying too many sons, brothers and fathers this year. But despite at least one protest taking place daily for about four months solid, some people still aren't sure what the fuss is all about.

If this is you, let me explain. 1. For those of us active in this movement, "fuss" just doesn't quite cut it as a way to describe the feeling of being systematically brutalized and terrorized in a country that purports to offer the rights of life and liberty to all. 2. Quite frankly, the pursuit of happiness becomes a distant third in the face of these former two rights being threatened, so you may not see all of us conducting our lives in a "business as usual" routine. We are in survival mode for ourselves and our children. 3. Yes, your lives matter too. All lives matter. But because black teenage boys are dying at up to 21 times the rate of their white counterparts, there is a state of emergency in black America, and it is appropriate to affirm with specificity that black lives do matter. 4) It is important for white Spokane and non-black communities of color in the area to support and affirm the value of black lives. Whether you march with us, advocate for your black friends and colleagues, or join the NAACP, allies in this cause are appreciated. At 1.9 percent of the local population, we need to know that black lives matter to the other 98.1 percent. We notice which teachers, co-workers, bosses, organizations, churches and local businesses show support. We also notice who doesn't show up and sometimes wonder why.

In the famous last words of Eric Garner, "I ... can't ... breathe," there is a metaphor for the asphyxiation we are experiencing as black people in America and in Spokane. The air is thinner for us now; we are not all getting the same amount of oxygen here. So don't stop us when we reach for the oxygen mask that is hope for justice. Let us say what we need to say, march when we need to march, and hold our kids when we need to feel their hearts beat. Let us be, be with us, and let us breathe. ♦

Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, is president-elect of NAACP Spokane and teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.

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