We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest - Poems that Resist Police Brutality & Demand Racial Justice
Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son -- we who believe in freedom cannot rest.
- Ella Baker
Even as our hearts break in rage and anguish over the murder of Black and brown people throughout the land by police who are not held accountable, here at Split This Rock we are heartened by the powerful actions in the streets and the visionary leadership of mostly young people of color in this growing movement for justice.
We are also moved by the poets, who continue to speak out, and especially by BlackPoetsSpeakOut.
In solidarity, Split This Rock offers our blog as a Virtual Open Mic, open to all who respond to our call for Poems that Resist Police Brutality and Demand Racial Justice. The poems below were submitted in response to that call.
Please note poems with complex formatting have been posted as jpegs, as this blog has a limited capacity for properly displaying these poems. We apologize if these poems are not accessible to you.
For more information or questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are moved by any of the poems below, please contact the Department of Justice and your local representatives to demand for police accountability. Visit Ferguson Action Demands for more information.
But they never complained about the middle passage
WE ARE A LONG WAY
by Burgi Zenhaeusern
from walking side by side, as long as
you are presumed guilty.
Only ignorance lets me
approach you without prejudice, but how
can I choose ignorance when you have no such choice.
Only silence lets me
look past the color of your skin, but how
can I silence what my kin does to yours
First definitions for you and me:
black or white, then male or female.
Where I grew up
the Other spoke Italian, Czech, or Hungarian
we were all white and didn't know.
Since I've come here, I can't forget
that I am white. I carry
my whiteness self-consciously, want
to unlearn the distinction. But how
can I want to move beyond when you can't,
when you still carry
the whole burden of proof
while i am presumed innocent.
I see you and wonder,
I see you and don't know,
I see you and stop
How about you?
The Uneasy calm of Ferguson
by Chandramohan S
A bunch of writers
At an international writing program
Sit around a table to write
On their idea of justice,
No one could snatch off the gag
From their mouths
And let the silence free,
No one could spill the ink
From their blood-
The uneasy calm of Ferguson.
DINNER WITH CORNEL WEST
by Karla Cordero
I'm a brown girl who likes her dinner warm
& waits for the boiling soup to settle inside her bowl.
I notice how the vegetables swim beside each other.
This moment breaks as the TV screams
about the new sewage flooding Ferguson. My tongue burns
on broth in an uproar forgetting the piece of squash
escaping my spoon, & dives back in the heap of its bowl.
As Ferguson continues to fall, 49 arrests, 49 voices protest.
Practicing the first amendment from their tongues
& Mr. Cornel West pushes through the dirt of law.
He's too elegant for police siren & pepper spray dressed
all black suit, tie, & silk scarf. Cornel must be hungry rustling
through the herds of uniform & riot shields. I raise
my spoon, shove a carrot beside his small TV mouth.
I can't tell if he's eating or still begging for justice.
He waves his hands like a preacher at Sunday church.
Batons smile, shatter gospel & the people of Ferguson
fall. Cornel leaves handcuffed & hungry.
My tongue throbs losing its taste buds. & inside my
mouth the carrots forget how to compliment the corn.
by Monica Minott
Lord why are we still singing
while our children our dying.
So much blood... flowing.
That was then, that was Soweto.
But is it not happening again?
In the streets of Ferguson,
we march with hands up,
they gun us down.
In Florida, stand your ground
they gun us down.
Trayvon's bullet buried deep.
In the streets of New York City
we can't breathe. Oh Lord,
we can't breathe.
And yet we are still singing.
freedom is coming...tomorrow.
by Leslie Anne Mcilroy
The star that dives of its own
volition, sailing into the night
to know the wind, the glory,
arms wide, the freedom/freedom
of falling. The star that climbs
higher, shining bright/bright/brighter,
how light has never been
too light, how no night can gag/
the constellations from your
mouth, still shining blood
and glistening teeth and fury,
how silence is dark, dark is
your mouth, dark the air you
breathe when you say nothing,
when nothing is what you say.
Poem for the Ayotzinapa 43 and Michael Brown: Reasons why it is okay to be angry, Reasons why we deserve to live.
by alejandro jimenez
Because black ad brown lives matter.
Because Michael Brown was 18 years old.
Because 20, is the average age of the missing 43
I work with a student whose cousin
Is one of the missing students
Talking to him makes time and distance seem more tangible
Not because I am Mexican
But because my cousin was beaten to death
Lucky for us,
His body was left by some train tracks
We do not have to wonder where he is
My aunt does not have to hold fists full of dirt
And wonder if those are his ashes,
we held a funeral for him and not a search party.
Because the statement above,
Should not be considered lucky.
Because our blood is the oil that keeps the machinery running smoothly
The machinery, of a system that was never meant for us
A system, that has never been broken
It has always rewarded whom it was suppose to reward
It has always gotten rid of whom it was suppose to get rid of
Because poor people have always been seen as disposable
Because reaching for your wallet may be a death sentence
Because being big and strong may be a death sentence
Because asking for a better education may be a death sentence
Because mexico is not just a tourist destination
Because people only talk about mexico during cinco de mayo
I wonder if Americans think mexico is shaped like a corona bottle
I wonder if Americans can smell the burning bodies
When they light up their cheap marijuana joints
Because they will take our land, citing the bible and manifest destiny
They will militarize it as part of their foreign policy
They will make us illegal, claiming national security
But they never complained about the middle passage
or about jim crow, or about the KKK, or about lynchings,
Because immigration is only good if we are all destined for a plantation
Because ¡ya me canse! I am fed up!
Is not just a chant
vibrating out of the mouths of millions of protesters in Mexico City
It is a chant echoed in
Because ¡vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!
You took them alive, we want them back alive!
Is not just a plea demanded by parents across Mexico
But also those in
Because darren wilson celebrated thanksgiving
It is not thanksgiving, it is things taken
Because parents in ferguson, missouri
Because parents in guerrero, mexico
Will weep over those taken away from them
Because darren Wilson claimed he had only one bullet in his gun
Because Michael brown was shot eight times
Because we do not want our gold returned to us in form of bullets.
Because they have made everything black: ugly and evil
Because they have made everything brown: dirty and unworthy
Because they have made everything white: pure and beautiful
Because white privilege means you can murder
Because white privilege means you will get away with it.
Because america's justice system justifies violence
Because mexico's justice system justifies violence
Because I want to be peaceful and violent at the same time
Because their juries do not speak for us
Because the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house
Because they can bury us
But, indeed, we are seeds.
Stubborn dandelions that will not go away
Because there are still songs to be sung
There are dances to be learned
Has always been the backbone of our people.
We look for a better life
But we are tired of finding slaughtered teeth and no indictments
Because no matter how pretty I describe murder,
It does not make caskets any more enjoyable to look at.
Because I wanted to write about
Honey and flowers
About the sweet and the beautiful
About waves and sunsets,
Because 43 bodies burned to ashes
Is not good poetry material
Because a black body,
Spread on a street for four and a half hours is not good poetry material
Because I hate writing about this shit.
Because I have a 1 yr old nephew
And I dread the day
That I will teach him how to defend himself
I dread the day
I will have to explain to him why we should mistrust the police
Why his skin is a target
Why when he walks he should not hold his head too high
Why some days he will just have to be okay with saying
Because I will hate to tell him
That questioning his education may be a death sentence
That trying to reason with the devil may be a death sentence
That being big and strong like his father maybe a death sentence
That raising his voice might be a death sentence
I am afraid that we may have to teach him
That being himself in this world, may be a death sentence.