• You Can Not Be Silent: An Open Letter to President Barack Obama...a Black Man.

    Dear Mr. President,

    You do not get to be silent.

    Yes, you are the President of the United States and there because you had the audacity to hope. Well, you also endure the burden of history...a violence, bloody, water soaked from the hoses of Birmingham and the gnashing teeth of dogs history that is now present...again. The present is no less bloody but now the police do not turn on water hoses. They simply shoot. They shoot and they kill. You are a lawyer with a Harvard degree...surely you must be outraged by the number of Black AMERICANS who are tried and executed on American streets and sidewalks of this country you lead! I realize you have had a conversation with the young people responsible for the Black Lives Matter Movement along with Rep. John Lewis and leaders from the Civil Rights Movement but time preaching to the choir is done. Talking to people who share your views is not enough. You have the reach to bring law enforcement agencies, officials and lawmakers...people who appear indifferent to the cause of saving Black lives even...YOU can call upon these people for change. Even if the call falls on deaf ears, you can not be silent. You can not be silent when white mass murders shoot up churches, schools and movies theaters and then are taken into custody without a single scratch while Black men selling cigarettes, music or being a twelve year old playing in the park with his sister are criminalized and shot down in the street. You can not be silent.

    Your hand was slapped for acknowledging a simple truth in 2012: If you had a son, he would likely look like Trayvon. We haven’t heard you personalize or claim this hurt, this confusion, this solidarity, this anger, this love for a lost child...a son of the citizens who put you in office SINCE that day. Why? Because the backlash of “you are the President for ALL Americans” scared you out of speaking up when Black Americans were being killed by police...on camera, no less. You went from “this Black life mattered” to “ALL life matters” because the demographic that now make up Trump supporters slapped your hand and said you can’t be Black, speak of your Blackness and be the President at the same time. If you feel you must, it can only be in times of humor, song, dance and satire...but never, ever, in times of crisis in a racist America. The ones who slapped your hand have slapped it over your health care program, your jobs program, or the fact that it's a day of the week...any day of the week! The people who support you need you to support us back. With every #<insert name here>, our spirit is broken just a little bit more...but those ‘little bit more’ cracks are adding up and building to an ultimate breaking point. You have grown silent on us. That was NOT the way of Martin, Malcolm or Medgar. Do you not understand that it is YOUR face as the fourth on OUR Mount Rushmore?! Martin, Malcolm and Medgar would know these names...would lead the hurt...calm the angry. YOU DO NOT GET TO BE SILENT!

    Black people are being terrorized by the police in this country. We are sharing RULES and TIPS on how to act and exist in the event an police officer, an agent of protection and service, is in our presence. Law abiding citizens are more afraid of police officers than supposed terrorist so many claim are seizing any moment to kill us. We watched TWO men die today...literally watched them not exist on this planet any more. Black people are the villains in this country. That’s the narrative. That’s what the Trump people claim when they say they want to make America Great Again. We are hearing the rhetoric of George Wallace circa 1964 as the basis of a Presidential campaign...and he’s winning! Trump may not win the actual election but he is doing his part in making sure that the folks who never wanted you as President for the simple fact that you are a Black man are poked and prodded like bears in a cage. They see that there are NO CONSEQUENCES to shooting Black Americans in the streets. AND THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES! How is it possible that SO many people are dying at the hands of police and NO ONE is responsible for the people dying?! Essentially they are guilty of their own murder. Now, does that sound right to you? I am legitimately afraid of the police. I do not feel safe when I see them. I feel anxiety. I feel shame. I feel anger. I feel terror. And I am a college professor with absolutely NO REASON to feel any of those feelings...counting on politics of respectability to protect me but who’s to say I’m not the next Ersula Ore, the Arizona State University professor fought to the ground by campus police for jaywalking; or Professor Steven Locke of Massachusetts College of Art and Design because he “fit the description of a robbery suspect in the area” or Dr. Henry Louis Gates because there is NO way that’s his house and the police will come and place me under arrest without the benefit of actually being a law abiding citizen like MOST citizens of this country. 

    Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 and the loss of that one life helped launch a movement. Here we are, sixty years later and while possessing the audacity of hope and the illusion of equality, Emmitt is STILL laying in the street for hours, bloating in the summer sun of Ferguson. Emmitt STILL can not breathe. Emmitt STILL gets pursued by white men and murdered because he is Black and is on the wrong side of the street...or town. Emmitt is STILL being lynched and accused of his own death. Emmitt is STILL laying on display so we can all see his mangled body. And you can not be silent, Mr. President.

    Yes, we have broken so many barriers. We have embraced the dilemmas of integration and march with allies of all races and nationalities but our fathers and their fathers and our mothers and their mothers did not come this far for your silence. We have NEVER had a Black President and by the looks of things, it’s hard to say when we might have another...and for that reason, you can not be silent. You can not let another name flash upon our feeds and timelines for soon the regularity of that will bring about numbness and then complacency. I will not accept this America and I certainly will not accept it with your as the one we voted to speak on our behalf. I don’t care if there are only six months left. SPEAK! DO!

    Ronald Reagan let hundreds of thousands Americans die of a disease he did nothing to help treat or research because he didn’t acknowledge it existed until those deaths mounted up on the lawn of the National Mall with the Names Project and the AIDS Quilt. Is that what we need to do to get you to DO SOMETHING? Do we need to show up with the accounting of the Black men and women who are SUPPOSEDLY dying by their own hand with the assistance of police and call out their names? We have a record of them all! Social media archives are littered with hashtagged cries of “my child didn’t deserve this!” The youth shouting BLACK LIVES MATTER are getting sore throats and ALL of our patience is wearing thin. There are not more marches to be had. Those days have pass. Congressional sit in plays well on CSpan but we’ve long since turned the television off. We need action! With six months left in your Presidency, I suggest you do the following:

    - STATE LEADERS: Call together all the governors and the heads of law enforcement agencies and revise training protocol. It is understood that not every cop is a bad cop but it is hard to pick out the good ones among the ones using our youth for target practice.

    - SHOOTER LIABILITY INSURANCE POLICY: When a person buys a car, they must obtain insurance in the event an accident damaging the car or the life of another person can be compensated. Begin an insurance plan that requires a shooter to have some form of liability coverage, including police. If your own money is going into a policy to be given to the injured party, I’m willing to bet fewer people will be injured. 

    - Or toss those ideas out and come up with something that will serve as the spark we need. We need the glow of the light in a lighthouse, that stands higher than the storm itself. The clouds of despair is choking out the light of hope. You can not be silent for the one we chose to speak for us is you. If you don't, then what?

    Tonight, we watched as the four years old daughter of Philandro Castile‬, say to her mother, "It's okay, Mommy. It's okay, I'm right here with you." 

    Are you?

    You can not be silent.


    Terésa Dowell-Vest

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