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.
I Am a Man
by DuEwa Frazier
I am America
I bleed the red, white and blue
I built this country
Yet you made me strange fruit
I am a man
Yet this system
Just won't see
Why am I so feared when I should be free?
I taught you justice
I impact every aspect of culture, history and society
Still you ignore my claims and cries
I am Thurgood Marshall's gavel
I Toussaint L'Ouverture's sword
I am Frederick Douglass' en
I am W.E.B. Dubois' intellect
I am James Henrik Clarke honoring history
I am Paul Robeson, renaissance, man, hear me speak
I am Malcolm X
I am Medgar Evers
I am Martin Luther King
I am Nat Turner
I am Langston Hughes - I, Too Sing America
I am James Baldwin - Native son
I am Amiri Baraka - My people created blues music, blues poetry
I am H. Rap Brown
I am the Last Poets - I am not scared of Revolution
I am Huey Newton
I am Eldridge Cleaver
I am the Scottsboro Boys
I am Jena 6
I am Trayvon, Tasmir and Kajieme, hold me, don't let me go
Never forget me
I am Michael Brown, don't shoot
I am Eric Garner, I cannot breathe
I told you cannot breathe
Judge me not for my ants when they sag
Or my bandana
Or my grillz
Look into my heart
See me carrying 400+ years of oppression
On my back
Because my DNA has a memory and yours does too
I am a man, I am no different from you
I have grown from innocent boy to a man who has
Seen it all
I redefine the meaning of THUG as - Transform Hope Unity and Growth
I am marching to take a stand
New York City, DC, Atlanta, St. Louis, Philly
Detroit and Oakland
And in the time of the new civil rights era
This revolution will most certainly be televised, photographed and videotaped
I galvanize and organize
See me, hear me
I will not retreat
You may lie on me
Shoot me and strike me down
You may burn my house, spread your hate on my street
You may try to kill me and say I wanted it, asked for it, deserved it
You may call me every n-word, spook, porch monkey, and jigaboo in the book
Still, I will not retreat
I will protect my family
I will raise my children
I will secure the future of the next generation
I will teach
I will pray for my people and this nation, under God
I will create a new world
One that makes you see me, hear me, respect me, honor me
I will fight for justice
I will fight to be seen as a man, in all of my power
In all of my glory
I will fight to be viewed as a human of value
On the shoulders of my ancestors
Do I stand
As I proclaim
I AM A MAN!
by Chandramohan S
The anger of the pronoun
the blackness of the round silver bullets.
If Riot Means Destruction
by Wesley Rothman
Without the moon we find our lightness whiteness
washed out brightness coming down on us a baton of
unconsciousness unconscienceness the breakage we
didn't know we could bring riot is not reaction it is
burning down from within how we burn an other's body
down quietly over time keep the ember humming
blowing blowing blow until the tongue flares
sizzled and singeing riot is the whiteness
looting stores propped in the chest robbing water and
bread to break down the head and will of an other the
riot begins with silence with an attack a drone strike
a sniper some mile off every voice in the street fist cry
every face in the eye of a camera is not a riot
not a threat a force to stop traffic bring on the red lights
shut down the headlights eager to blind bring down
the sky the moon bring down bring down
by Kristen McCallum
Stop the apologies for non apologies because our expressions should feel free
I don't believe in holding tongues when my people cannot breathe
Feeling sick from being tired of removing erasers from our heels
Don't you dare look in our faces and dictate how much we can feel
The innocent lives lost at the cost of independent madness
But you're placing blame on grieving hearts that too have felt this sadness
Now all lives matter when the perp isn't gifted...with a pension package, a badge and pardons unlimited
But black lives shouldn't matter, our priority should be shifted?
Our protests should halt and our cries should be muffled?
You think these mothers only mourn so you feathers will get ruffled?
There's no timeline for our justice because we deserve it now.
Condolences for the losses that we've spent decades crying about
You say in due time but our time has been due, you really still think we are waiting on you?
We are tired of burying the dreams of our youth, the mothers of our children and the fathers of them too
This work is not an option. We aren't asking for the room.
So do not ask us for a silence you aren't entitled to.
For Eric Garner
by Donna Katzin
It was not the cigarettes
they said you sold on the street,
short stubby cancer sticks,
that took your life.
It was not potato chips and Coca-Cola,
calories or cholesterol
that blubbered your belly,
slowed your step.
It was no weak heart --
yours filled with mother, wife, son,
and hope to make ends meet for them
one sidewalk cigarette at a time
It was the color of your skin
that made white officers in State Island
wrestle you to the ground,
knee on your face,
choke you from behind,
that deafened them
eleven times, when you gasped
I can't breathe.
It was your blackness that blinded
the Grand Jury to your humanity,
made them decide your death
wasn't even a crime.
Perhaps it was the memory in a shallow grave
of green plantations, brown mud,
where black men walked in chains,
hung from trees for lesser crimes,
the terror in white hearts
that the cold avalanche
of hatred they began
would bury them.
Redeem the Dream
by Ty Gray-EL
Now this poetic statement
may seem to some extreme
Yet a people climb no higher
than the summit of their dreams
So we must plan this hour
an elaborate spiritual scheme
For the sake of all humanity
we must Redeem the Dream
Cause if the Reverend Doctor
were standing here today
I'm not sure that he'd be pleased
not certain what he'd say
I's been more than 50 years
since that faith-filled day
Still the circumstances
have not gone away
Because police brutality
cast a shadow on our dreams
A blue haze prevents the raising
of our people's self esteem
America must realize
Its folk are under attack
The victims being assaulted
are those driving while black
Cause some men in blue we've chose
to protect and serve
seize every opportunity
to kick us to the curb
Of the almost 3 millions Americans
locked up in our jails
7 out of 10 are black or brown
How did Justice tip the scales
I thought Justice was blindfolded
She must be reading braille
Obviously she's not colorblind
she obviously favors pale
This poem is a plea for justice
to right this grievous wrong
It's time the burden was lifted
we carried the load too long
From all the melanised people
oppressed by men in blue
this poem is a prayerful out-cry
that we are human too
In the name of God, we ask
Call of your cruel regime
In the name of god, we pray
Dear Lord, redeem the dream
of Dr. Martin Luther King
One River, One Boat
by Marjory Wentworth
"I know there's something better down the road."
- Elizabeth Alexander
Because our history is a knot
we try to unravel, while others
try to tighten it, we tire easily
and fray the cords that bind us
The cord is a slow moving river,
spiraling across the land
in a succession of S's,
splintering near the sea.
Picture us all, crowded onto a boat
at the last bend in the river:
watch children stepping off the school bus,
parents late for work, grandparents
fishing for favorite memories,
teachers tapping their desks
with red pens, firemen suiting u
to save us, nurses making rounds,
baristas grinding coffee beans,
dockworkers unloading apartment size
containers of computers and toys
from factories across the sea.
Every morning a different veteran
stands at the base of the bridge
holding a cardboard sign
with misspelled words and an empty cup.
In fields at daybreak, rows of migrant
farm workers standing on ladders, break open
iced peach blossoms; their breath rising
and resting above the frozen fields like clouds.
A jonboat drifts down the river.
Inside, a small boy lies on his back;
hand laced behind his head, he watches
stars fade from the sky and dreams.
Consider the prophet John, calling us
from the edge of the wilderness to name
the harm that has been done, to make it
plain, and enter the river and rise.
It is not about asking for forgiveness.
It is not about bowing our heads in shame;
because it all begins and ends here:
while workers unearth trenches
at Gadsden's Wharf, where 100,000
Africans were imprisoned within brick walls
awaiting auction, death, or worse.
Where the dead were thrown into the water,
and the river clogged with corpses
has kept centuries of silence.
It is time to gather at the water's edge,
and toss wreaths into this watery grave.
And it is time to praise the judge
who cleared George Stinney's name,
seventy years after the fact,
we honor him: we pray.
Here, where the Confederate flag still flies
beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past,
conflicted about the future; at the heart
of it, we are at war with ourselves
huddled together on this boat
handed down to us - stuck
at the last bend of a wide river
splintering near the sea.
Ghazal for Our Sons
by JP Howard
No one knew seventeen would be his last candle.
There’s always a flicker of hope, even after that last flame.
History repeats itself in the worse ways. If you say their names out loud:
Emmett, Trayvon, Sean, Amadou you will burst into flames.
How much repetition can we take before we grow tired of these stanzas?
My teenage son looks more man than child; I wonder what storm will he ignite?
This poem has no date, no place to rest its final line,
as long as justice flickers in the distance.
What is it about a brown boys face
that makes the world around him explode?
A mother sees the sparkle in her son’s eyes,
but a stranger’s fingers extinguish his flame.
Juliet, how many mamas have to hold a candlelight vigil
to get this spark started?
*Ghazal for Our Sons was originally published in Stand Our Ground Anthology: Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander, edited by Ewuare X. Osayande, FreedomSeed Press, 2013. Link to website: http://standourgroundbook.com
(after Jane Kenyon)
I awoke today
with two strong boys.
It might have been
otherwise. I kissed
their cheeks, pale
male. It might
have been otherwise.
They walked through the park
and home again safely.
All day long I lived without
fear for the ones I love.
For lunch we made grilled
cheese sandwiches. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with paper
napkins. It might
have been otherwise.
The boys slept in beds
in a room with painted walls
and planned other days
just like this day.
And I prayed in the dark
because I know,
there are other mothers
with boys for whom
every day is otherwise.