A couple of weeks ago, I was in the pediatric emergency room with my 14-month-old son after he busted his lip open while bumbling about. Believe me, hanging out in an ER with a young child is one of the worst ways to spend your time. While we waited for what felt like an eternity ? to have his lip glued back together, a young Black girl was in the exam room across the hall from us.
She was in the middle of a mental health crisis. I could see her across the way because the exam room had large windows that were wide open. She was struggling. There were two cops in there with her and a white woman speaking on a phone outside of her room. As I tried to hold it together for my injured son, I kept peeking out our window to check on the girl. I looked around to see if her parents were there and I saw no other adults that were involved in the situation besides hospital staff.
I guessed that her parents weren’t there through no fault of their own––but instead due to some systemic failure. As I drew deep breaths for the situation I was experiencing with my child, I started to breathe for the girl too. Her parents couldn’t be there, but I would be there for them to monitor what was happening. The presence of police around a Black child in a mental health crisis made me feel quite nervous. If you don’t understand what I mean by this, then you haven’t been paying attention. I refused to just ignore this situation unfolding in front of me. I never thought I would be doing Copwatch in a kids’ ER.
As I observed the situation, my thoughts went to Ma’Khia Bryant, the young Black girl killed by police in Ohio minutes before the guilty verdict against cop Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was announced. Ma’Khia was in foster care and defending herself in a fight with an older woman when a cop took her life seconds after arriving at the scene. She had a kitchen knife in her hand when she was shot and because of that, the public jury decided it was justifiable to kill her. NO, IT WAS NOT JUSTIFIED. SHE WAS A CHILD.
I watched the bodycam footage of her murder. When the cop arrived on the scene in Ohio, he didn’t ask any questions and didn’t take any time to assess the situation. In 10 SECONDS, he shot and killed young Ma’Khia without trying to de-escalate the fight or put himself between Ma’Khia and the woman she was fighting with. Ma’Khia is gone, and I can only imagine what her family is going through over the loss of their daughter.
Ma’Khia was in foster care presumably to provide her with a better life. However, she struggled in her foster home and called police when she felt like she was being attacked. The entire system failed to protect Ma’Khia.
Back in the ER, I asked a nurse about the girl across the hall. “I know it’s none of my business, but is she ok?” You know what, it was my business, because if one Black child is unsafe, then no child is safe. My child was unsafe because there were cops around a young Black girl in a mental health crisis. Anything could have happened because there is plenty of evidence to prove that cops should not be trusted with the lives of Black people. We were in an unpredictable situation.
My son was eventually discharged, but the girl was still in the exam room when we left. I stood in the hallway for a minute and tried to make eye contact with her as she pressed her face against the exam room window. I wish I could have done more for her. I left crying, holding my baby tight. The next morning, I checked the local news to see if there was anything possibly related to this young girl. I found nothing. I can’t believe I live in a world where I feel like I have to check the news to see if a young Black girl was killed by police while in a pediatric emergency room. At least she made it to the hospital, instead of juvenile detention, or worse, dead on the street like Ma’Khia.
Systemic racism creates systemic failures where the lives of Black people are not protected or valued––they are endangered. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are “unalienable rights” guaranteed to all humans by the Declaration of Independence––except Black and Brown people. They aren’t even guaranteed the right to not be killed in this country.
I became a mom last year, and let me tell you, I have some uber mama bear protector vibes going on these days. So let me repeat, no child is safe in this country as long as the lives of Black children are unsafe. I want to live in a country where every child and person can prosper without the threat of systemic racism. That means we need to go back to the drawing board and create alternative systems of care where we don’t call the police for our problems. We need to redirect resources away from police to communities so people are supported and can thrive from an early age. I hope that girl is okay.
It’s Mother’s Day, which was started in the 1870s as an appeal for women to unite for peace. But, I’m not calling for peace. I’m calling for justice––without justice, there can be no peace. I want justice for that young girl in the emergency room. I want justice for families of people killed by police violence. I want justice for the centuries of racism and exploitation that have ravaged the lives of people of color.That sounds like a lot of work, and I don’t have all of the answers, but we have to start from somewhere.
One way (but not the solution by any means) we can find justice is by ending qualified immunity so we can hold police accountable. Qualified immunity is the practice that prevents cops from being sued in court for violating people’s civil rights. If police must face the consequences for murdering innocent people, then maybe they will think twice before pulling a gun or kneeling on someone’s neck.
This Mother’s Day for Justice, I’m asking you to take a small action by emailing your legislator and demanding they vote to end qualified immunity in the Commonwealth. Since last year, two bills were introduced to get rid of the practice, but they were defeated by a reticent legislature that preferred to give police bonuses instead.
One thing about calling for justice is that you don’t shut up until you achieve your goal. So expect your people over here at Progress Virginia to continue demanding justice and an end to qualified immunity. So you best get to work and email your legislator today. Also, don’t turn away next time you see injustice unfolding. Watch, record if you can, and remember. Oh and Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there fighting like crazy to survive and protect your babies in this crazy world. We see you.