I type and I talk, but generally I always process things that hurt my by myself. After this last week, I needed some help. I was overwhelmed by the violence, fear, and hate that has been driving the events of the past week.
A group of young people of color took me in and allowed me to talk things out with them. The look of fear in their eyes made everything that much more real and painful. Then my father called telling me to go home because there were police shot downtown. The week went from bad to worse. I thought back my classroom and my students. My dad was afraid for me and I was afraid for them.
A little over a year ago, a student of mine asked me "are the police trying to kill all the Black people? I don't understand why this keeps happening." This student, a Latina 10th grader, was reacting to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. That statement was and still is heart breaking. Why is it necessary to generalize an entire group of people based on a small group that acts up?
Processing with students means answering questions that you may not have all the answers for. Need tips? I always see what Momentous has to say about the emotional stuff, but as for the "facts?" Things will always be gray, unfortunately for all of us.
"I've stolen things before, does that mean I'll be killed if I get stopped," she asked. A year later that's still one of the arguments being made for why the deaths of people at the hands of police makes sense. There's a reason why prior acts of badness and hearsay are generally inadmissible in a court of law. Our system is supposed to be set up for redemption so we are supposed to believe that people can change and better themselves. That's what I believe about my students. The law also doesn't prescribe the death penalty for stealing or frequently being involved in traffic stops.
"Aren't the police supposed to help people, not kill them," she asked, following up her last question. Absolutely, and that's what they do. The police have saved my life. I depend on the police from my security. The murder of police in cold blood this past week was inexcusable and unjustifiable. Extremism makes everyone look bad and took attention away from a nonviolent protest with a purpose. It does no good to decide all police are bad because of a few that are.
So what do we have? Communities of color that feel like they are being treated unfairly and are in danger from police, who also feel like they are being treated unfairly and are in danger. While that's an oversimplification of the current situation, it's frustrating that people feeling emotions that are so similar can't find common ground more quickly.
If the youth in your life are confused and reaching out for something, anything, do what you can to help them process and heal. You may find that you heal yourself in the process. I keep our Mayor, our police officers, and people hurting in our communities in my heart during this difficult time. Just because we're all suffering doesn't mean we have to do it alone. Talk to someone.