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We Shouldn’t Have to Fear the People Sworn to Protect Us

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July 30, 2015

Photo by Gerry Lauzon via Flickr

Photo by Gerry Lauzon via Flickr

I got pulled over by a police officer for the first time earlier this year.

I was driving down the highway with my best friend, who was in the passenger seat. I had music playing loudly, and it was kind of late, around 10:00 pm. We were on our way to meet up with some friends in the city. I was admittedly speeding, but did not realize it until I heard the sirens. When I saw the familiar but foreboding flashing blue and red lights in my rearview mirror, my hands started shaking. My best friend is so much better at composing herself and emotions than I am, so naturally, I looked at her with widened eyes. However, I saw the same thing being mirrored in her eyes as well, before she attempted to pull herself together.

“It’s fine. Just pull over. It’s okay. We’ll be okay.”

I remember counting the seconds, waiting for the police officer to approach my car. When he finally did approach my car, he came to the passenger side, instead of the driver side, knocking loudly and obnoxiously on the glass window, scaring both of us to no end. After he questioned us on where we were going, he gave me a warning. “You were going pretty fast, so just be careful.” And he went back into his car.

It took me several minutes before I could merge back onto the highway. My hands were gripping the steering wheel tightly, and I remember trying to tell myself to stop shaking.

Silence ensued for a couple more minutes before I could hear the audible deep breath my friend took.

“Well, shit. That was kind of scary.”

“Yeah.”

“How lucky are we? Just a warning. Wow.”

It took me several days to process that experience, but when I did, I felt heightened anger. I should not feel mind-numbingly frightened when communicating with a police officer. I should not be shaking. I should not be thinking about my parents who had countless conversations with me about interactions with the police, cursing myself out in the head for speeding, for being so damn stupid. The reality of this, in my experience, is that this is something that is common with black people when interacting with the police–we feel either intense fear or intense anger, and most of the time, a combination of the two. The slight annoyance my white friends feel when being pulled over by a cop is an actual privilege. I wish I felt just a slight annoyance. I feel fearful. I take deep breaths. My anxiety skyrockets. For a minor traffic violation.

For a minor traffic violation.

This is why Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Sam DuBose, and a long list of many more black people murdered at the hands of the state is absolutely painful, and resonates deeply within the black community. State-sanctioned violence against black women, men and transgender folks is an issue that is time and time again, swept under the rug, or brushed aside in mainstream progressive movements, including the reproductive justice and reproductive health movements. While we are aware of how imperative it is to have reproductive rights, it is also extremely important that people of color (especially black women and black trans* women whose deadly interactions with state officials have garnered less media coverage) can actually be alive to acquire those rights. It sends a clear and terrible message if we are advocating for reproductive rights with no mention of the continuous and brutal violence against these communities. It screams loudly: our actual lives do not matter.

This website keeps track of how many people have been killed by law enforcement. This year so far, as of today, it has been 671 people (although the list is constantly growing). One of the most infuriating aspects of these situations is that we are not trying to figure out who are committing these crimes. We often know the first and last names of the officials who have contributed to the unprecedented amount of black people being murdered. This is not a mystery; this is not an unidentified murder case. We know exactly what is happening and how it is happening and yet, the rampant violence continues. Video footage and eyewitness testimony do not tend to help obtain justice for these individuals killed at the hands of the state; majority of the time these officials get acquitted, return to their privileged lives, and the nation turns a blind eye to another unjust murder.

This is why it is absolutely paramount, as a movement, to make it JUST as crucial to talk about police brutality and violence occurring at the hands of people who took an oath to protect the citizens who inhabit this country. What does it say, when as reproductive justice activists, we shout, scream, and protest about the right to own our bodies, but do not speak out about the fact that black people do not feel like we own our bodies in any sense? Our bodies are being slaughtered. Our bodies are being left out in the street for hours on end while people mourn. Our bodies are being slammed and pummeled into the ground at no avail. Our bodies are being pepper-sprayed at protests and rallies. Our bodies are being shot at just because we have the audacity to be black. Mothers are burying their children due to state-sanctioned violence at a disgustingly high rate. Black transgender folks especially, are petrified of literally going outside in broad daylight, knowing that if confronted with aggression and violence, police would not intervene, but instead, would most likely contribute to the pain.

It is immensely disheartening to feel like I have to be on guard all the time. It is a travesty that I must act a certain way–even when my rights are being violated– when talking to police officers, because if I do not, then it is possible that my body will not be mine anymore–it is possible that my body will be pushed and touched and handled without my consent.

We must hold ourselves accountable in this movement.

The right to simply exist should not be something that we should still be fighting for, but the saddening fact is that this is absolutely the case. We should all be outraged at the countless murdered black folks due to state-sanctioned violence. Progressive movements, especially reproductive justice, should work on encompassing the elimination of police brutality when discussing the right to bodily autonomy and having complete and full ownership of our bodies. We want our reproductive rights protected, but we want to live too.

Justina Trim is a recent college graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in Sociology and a concentration in Race and Urban Studies. She is the Communications intern at URGE this summer.

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