Dear Everyone Who Does Not Yet Get It,
You cannot tell us how to feel.
You cannot possibly understand what it is to be a bullseye for unwarranted violence. At the corner store. During a traffic stop. On the street. In our own homes.
You cannot continue to beat people down with your machinations of injustice, force them to bottle the resulting emotions and expect them to react with picket signs and change.org petitions.
You cannot ever demand a calm and peaceable response to murder, the most violent devaluation of life. Ever.
You cannot strategize institutionalized oppression and invent new forms of social and political torture targeted at one group of people and force those people to swallow it and digest it without excreting something.
You cannot consistently show zero respect for the lives of Black people, but expect Black people to uphold and demonstrate a respect for the law.
You cannot let fly the most unempathetic, demeaning and insensitive comments with badass boldness, then read from the standard I’m-not-racist script when the fallout is appropriately swift and severe.
You cannot count the accumulation of losses and tragedies we’ve experienced because of abuses of power, but they happen daily. It’s an egregious kind of math to even attempt to calculate them.
You cannot use prayer as a social sedative to stifle our anger and our thirst for action. We’re all prayed up. It’s time to move.
You cannot let your privilege feed your insensitivity and ignorance and not expect to get cussed out. Avoid the conversation at work and on social media if you don’t have anything worthwhile to add to it.
You cannot understand that we see ourselves in the people who become victims of assassination-by-cop and the families who not only mourn them, but have to defend their honor against media dirt-digging and fault-finding.
You cannot justify the murder of unarmed people and continually exonerate the law enforcement officers who are stone-cold killers. Even the attempt to do so is an insult. Don’t.
You especially cannot do that and then turn around and call us the “vigilantes” and “animals.”
You cannot keep putting psychologically incapacitated people in positions of authority, handing them a gun and anticipate their successful career in protecting and serving.
You cannot tout yourself as a humanitarian or a philanthropist and not see the benefit of investing dollars in preventative, enriching programming for underserved communities.
You cannot force people whose relationships with the cops have been marred with trauma and discriminatory, predictive policing to see them as a partner in community-building. Nobody trusts them. Rightfully so.
You cannot want people who have been on the underfoot of a system that was never designed to benefit them to believe in it.
You cannot incite a community—and the nation around it—with watery speeches, ineffective timing and premature militarization and not see your part in inviting the spillover of rage.
You cannot demand order from citizens who have every reason to riot. Looting is the frenzy of the oppressed.
You cannot refer to any of us as “it” and describe us as “demons” and not confirm the hierarchal thinking we already knew existed.
You cannot bankroll the salaries of those who murder Black people without consequence.
You cannot punish one group with ridiculous jail sentences for firing warning shots or dogfighting but allow another to hunt and kill off people and think the discrepancy will go unnoticed.
You cannot chastise expressions of hopelessness, frustration and anguish and not fault the source of the hopelessness, frustration and anguish itself.
We are tired of defending ourselves and our right to merely exist. It’s the most basic right any human being has and yet it’s not guaranteed to any Black man, woman or child.
I don’t know what the solution is. But I know what it’s not.
Janelle Harris resides in Washington, D.C., frequents Twitter and lives on Facebook.