Why I marched with Safer Heights

On June 14, 2020, I marched in my first protest march. 

Like most of us, I was horrified to witness the slow, public execution of a man who, by all accounts, had done nothing to warrant his death sentence.

Nonetheless, at first, when people started protesting and calls for reform were being made, I did nothing. Not because I didn’t care. But because I knew nothing would change. This was just another remake of a tired old story.

But then I read an article (which I’ve since lost track of). The writer argued that this time might be different. This time he was seeing large crowds of white people coming out in support. White people have always been involved in the civil rights movement, he admitted, but this time it wasn’t just hippies and students and clergy. This time was different—comfortably middle-class white suburbanites were marching, too. 

And so, the writer said, maybe—just maybe—this time things might actually change.

Still, I hesitated. 

It’s a complicated problem. I don’t completely agree with all of any group’s proposed reforms. The police aren’t all bad. Many are heroes who became cops because being Spiderman was not a viable career choice. 

But the status quo is unacceptable. I’m tired of the endless “war on crime” being waged in my country. The police need to demilitarize. Something must change.    

Still, I did nothing. 

I’m too busy, too old, too tired. 

Then I remembered that video of that man dying. And then the one of his daughter, gleefully proclaiming that her daddy’s going to change the world.  

The biggest barrier, however, remained: Is it really my place to fight this fight? Who am I to be interjecting my comfortable white self into this Black people’s movement? Would it be—or at least seem like—I was under the delusion they needed to be saved by the great white hope? Shouldn’t this story feature Black heroes in the lead roles, not yet more white actors stealing the limelight? 

I’m not sure I could have overcome this last barrier, even with those hopeful words: things might change this time because middle-class white people are getting involved. 

But then there was that Wanda Sykes video. Funny, smart, mellow, always-keeping-it-real Wanda Sykes. I’ve always loved her. And here she was, correcting me, educating me. She reminded me that this is a white people problem. And that white people need to be the ones to fix it. White people need to be the ones to step up and stop it. We need to be the ones out marching for reform. Otherwise it just won't happen. 

She was right.  

And so, with the hopeful words of that unknown writer bouncing around in my head, spurred on by that gentle kick in the pants from Wanda Sykes, I got my face mask out and walked to Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park. 

And then, I marched.

Chris Patterson

Chris Patterson is a new Heights resident who wants to help, but sometimes has to get out of his own way to do so. 

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Volume 13, Issue 8, Posted 9:48 AM, 07.31.2020