I'm teaching summer school and (per the above poem "Middelschmerz") we've been looking at issues of police brutality and race. We started out by reading some poems from a poetry workshop that took place in Baltimore (poems by Afiya Ervin, Brandi Randolph and Kyemah Clark  found at We analyzed those and then the kids wrote their own poems, which were in turn peer reviewed and revised. 

Because it's summer school we have limited technology available; I put my email address on the board and implored the kids to share with me if they felt so moved so that I could share them here, explaining how compartmentalized we all get as adults and how fortunate I feel to be exposed to their multiple perspectives every day. There are many more beautiful poems that didn't make it into my inbox, but what I did recieve is below. It's worth noting that, because of the rich diversity of the environment I'm in, there is a diversity of ability where the English language is concerned. As you read, you'll see what I mean, and obivously these are students, not professional poets. Even so, the sentiment is moving and beautiful and deserves our gaze:

Jasmine McBride

I just don't understand..
Is it because our skin color is labelled as the same color of an officers gun that we are forced to interact?
Or are you upset that we are children of the sun, and our melanin bursts, sparkles, and pops until the sun finally sets
My skin is a warm color, brown sugar, radiance, pure divine!
You wanted to be an enemy, your skin white like snow, the heat from my skin, voice and presence will melt you quicker than a gun could ever shoot on your best day, because I am warmth! you hate my kind
Maybe it's because my lips are projected for BIGGER, POWERFUL words, that your ears ache when heard
Hit me, beat me, torture me, I'll still yell the truth with a broken jaw, with words of slurs!
Don't get my anger mistaken for racism, I believe in equality, why can't you?
This will stop, we will make SURE of it, you can't turn every "black" face, blue
And lastly, you should know there are more of us being born stronger, every time you kill one, another warrior is coming through!
Calling war now that we're prepared, is the last thing you should do.

Tayler King

The love we've worked so hard for is gone
the love we protested and boycotted for
for a brief moment the worlds of black
and white were in almost perfect harmony
as we once thought it would be
what is the meaning of these actions
why must you treat us this way
why must you resort to these methods
when we've done nothing to provoke you
my brothers and sisters do not feel safe
they are the deer chased by the hunter because
of who we are sometimes we lie in bed and
wonder will I still be alive in 24 hours.

these acts of violence you say we committed
these unspeakable acts from those who say
they're here to protect us yet we hide from you
the crime is you drawing your weapon not my race
you thought because i'm black i've done something
all i did was be my black Self


Damylia Stuckey

I'm tired of hearing about shooting and killings

From the ones who serve and protect
It hurts to know that my brother has to watch his back
While walking down the street
He's not a threat

My people are dropping left and right like flies
Open season on African Americans is what my country knows
My heart cries just knowing that this is justified

My prayers are angels being sent to the victims families
The families that's still asking why

A question that everyone wants to know

Still slave under the apartment "hope"
Omar Ghada

I hopeful the world is not gonna end like this, it's going to change one day. I hope one day we have the social justice accept our folder open. I hope one day the oil and water gonna change to like salt and water.

I wish black live a long like Mississippi River, not short like deer in the jungle.

The moon played hide and seek with the clouds. What happen if you walk on the street at dark night, and you don't have the flash light and the sometimes lighting for you, but sometimes goes behind the clouds. The police like a moon.

Oreo and milk are two very different things, twisted linked dunked mission accomplishments. Oreos under the milk until the bubbles stop. Nowadays they wouldn't be not surprise if they on the news for murder. 

Chained Kings
Savion Benton

It was way before our time so we would never understand, they use to walk around freely with crowns placed upon their heads they had each other they shared a kingdom with one another. No enemies they all wer Brothers.

they there came a time when the Aliens came to the Kingdom in boats tied them up with ropes that's the day we became restricted from our freedom but they don't know, they like is this a joke can you come untie this rope the Aliens are taking souls and all the kings are being dethroned

they sailed ship on a a boat and made the Kings into lost souls, so generations after that there never was an aftermath, so if we give you present time you would see it's in our nature on how we act. there was a Black man he was a college graduate with a family on top of that he was on his way home from work and being attacked and just because he was Black all he heard was put your hands behind your Back. Chained Kings.



twenty percent of women
can feel themselves ovulate

which is basically magic

lately I’ve been
trying to sit silent
in the white dawn
to see what I can feel

something must be rearranging
at some systemic level
within my brain
everytime I witness
brutality immortalized
in our digital age

I sit silent to see
what I can feel
but I get distracted by traffic
and chickadees

80 percent of women, then
feel nothing, but prepare
to birth

maybe there are eggs
moving in my brain

my son was born
twenty years after rodney king’s
terrible night

the first video

a beautiful spark on
the anniversary of an explosion
and burning blocks

I was fourteen
impatient even then
“why is this still happening?”

i thought
my parents’ generation
had sorted it all out
had grappled
had reckoned
had had it out with this shit

i talk to my students
about samuel dubose
eric garner
freddie gray
sandra bland
trayvon martin

et fucking cetera

a litany in language arts
we get loud
write verse
try to birth something new
maybe we can
maybe we can

maybe they can
feel it


On Lives Mattering: Erasing Privilege

Our country has awakened, recently, to the tensions between communities of color and the police who work in those same communities. Certainly many Americans, particularly Americans of color, have been aware of these tensions for some time. I remember hearing about Amadou Diallo getting shot 19 times in 1999 by four NYPD officers who fired a total of 41 bullets at the unarmed Black man. That's as far back as my memory for this sort of thing stretches; I humbly acknowledge that for others, pigment and circumstance have necessitated a longer memory. Diallo got some national attention, and even a Bruce Springsteen song about the killing, but in the end the officers were acquitted and we all went on with our lives. There have been other killings of unarmed minorities by police in the years since, some of which have garnered more attention than others. Oscar Grant was unarmed and lying on the ground when he was shot in the back and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer. Grant got a film; the officer got involuntary manslaughter.

Still, though, many of us hadn't woken up. Trayvon Martin's death was even more high profile, though if you're paying close attention and disinclined to agree with the path I'm cutting, you'll likely point out that he wasn't killed by law enforcement. Fair enough. Even so,  George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain, and, it seems clear enough now, used his position of authority in order to wield power over the unarmed African-American teen.

If the details were different, the trend is the same, and reveals some troubling attitudes buried deep in the American consciousness about how we feel about young Black men.

And many of us still slept.

Around the same time we began to hear criticism of the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk program, a consitutionally murky protocol that disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos. This seemed to capture our attention for a while, then fade in to the background somewhat as other news items garnered the spotlight.

Among those: Eric Garner and Mike Brown. The killings of these two unarmed Black men by police (and the non-indictment decisions that followed) woke us up as a country. There were protests, there were riots, athletes wearing shirts that said "I can't breathe" (Garner's last words while being choked to death by police), and social media campaings.

The most notable of these is #blacklivesmatter, a simple hashtag that captured the country's attention.

Unfortunately, when the spotlight came on and woke us all up, many of us weren't ready, and had a hard time seeing clearly.

Enter #alllivesmattter, a reactionary hashtag that seems to suggest that we live in a post-racial utopia with a Black president and everything, and so should get over the notion that any of us is different than the other. In some cases it seems to be an attempt to drown out voices crying out for racial justice, in other cases it seems perhaps a genuine belief that we're all living the same reality. Some demonstrate a limited understanding of the law (and cast minorities as criminals).

Implicit in #alllivesmatter is the notion that anyone was saying that it's not the case, or that #blacklivesmatter is actually suggesting somehow that #blacklivesmattermore. This is false.

What's not false, and what is absolutely critical context for this whole discussion, is a ProPublica analysis of police killings from October, 2o14, which states the following:

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

21 times greater. To say #alllivesmatter, then, is to attempt to erase the privilege that whites enjoy, one in which, by and large, we get to worry about being killed by the police 21 times less than African-Americans.

That's completely staggering. We are not, then, all the same. Those who try to suggest that we are and that we are all living the same experiences are not, I'd venture to guess, familiar with very many Black people.

Since #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter took hold in the collective consciousness, we experienced another tragedy. A mentally ill Ismaayil Brinsley shot and killed NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. They were ambushed and murdered in their car, a brutal killing, like so many others, that should raise questions about our country's attitudes towards guns and mental health.

Instead it spawned #bluelivesmatter and #policelivesmatter, and here's why that's incredibly offensive.

Again, setting aside fringe elements like Brinsley, in the main, no one is suggesting that police lives don't matter, least of all me. In fact, my brother-in-law credits a police officer with saving his life by busting him for dealing drugs, an event that directly led to his own sobriety and pursuing a career as a chemical dependency counselor. Police do heroic work and face great dangers. They are not infallible, as we've seen, but their lives do, in fact, matter.

Here's the problem. Social media users, seeking to advocate for law enforcement, could have come up with any number of clever hashtags to do so. To advocate for police at this very moment, however, using the very language that, let's be honest, communites that have been oppressed by police are using to advocate for themselves, is insulting. It is tantamount to the kind of cultural appropriation that minorities in this country have faced since its inception. It is, in fact, like saying #policelivesmattermore.

And do they? NYPD officers turned their backs on mayor Bill de Blasio at Rafael Ramos' funeral, a reaction, no doubt, to de Blasio's criticisms of the NYPD's history of police brutality. The action seems to suggest that, perhaps, the two officers would have been alive had de Blasio been quiet (in the face of racist violence). Ultimately, they turned their backs on Ramos' grieving family, as well.

What's more, they have obfuscated the issue. To ask police to stop killing unarmed Black men is not the same as being anti-cop. To say that #blacklivesmatter is not to say that white people don't matter, or police, or anything else, but rather that we need to figure out a way to work together to create a society in which we do not have a racial predictability about which group is most likely to be killed by the police.

Those of us who, by virtue of our skin color, enjoy unearned privilege in this society need to put off guilt and shame and defensive posturing and instead examine and own our privilege, and in fact use it to create a more equitable world than the one we were handed.

Sanford Florida Public Works

Sanford Florida Public Works

They’re ripping up the sidewalks,
cardinal calls drowned out
by jackhammers, bobcats.

You can’t weaponize a sidewalk
that isn’t there.
No more crime scene photographs,
no more guns discharged.

This is a peaceful place –
and don’t we all deserve
some peaceful ground
to stand on?

Soft and grassy,
surrounded by gates
a worn path in place of pavers.

A word of caution:

This is our life.
People not from around here
who make us so afraid
that we go towards them
instead of away –

They don’t get a warning shot.
This isn’t Tallahassee,
this is a peaceful place
where we do what needs doing.

Bring on the jackhammers:
We’ll walk on the grass
if we have to.