It is a lament that began in 2013, when Jonathan Ferrell was killed by police
, a lament that sadly echoes today given the police shooting on September 20 of Keith Lamont Scott
. Our protests in Charlotte have given thunderous voice to the silent pain and suffering that each of us as black Americans know.
On Sunday, I and other community leaders in Charlotte had the opportunity to voice our pain and frustration in a gathering with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. We had the opportunity to offer policy suggestions and discuss short-term and long-term solutions.
Now is the time, because we as black Americans have reached a point where our lament can no longer go unheeded. We know the visceral fear when we are stopped on the street or pulled over without cause by police and have no power to stop it. We know how excessive and mass incarceration tears our families apart. We know what it means to be routinely threatened and humiliated by a criminal justice system, an education system and an economic system that does not value us as human.
We know, as writer Ta-Nehisi Coates says
, what it is like to not control our own bodies.
Yet as our lament fills the streets of Charlotte, as we call for transparency and accountability in the police departments that serve more to oppress us than protect us, as we call for an end to the discrimination that devalues our lives, we wonder who hears us?
We watch the news and see how our lament is vilified and dismissed by pundits who categorize our protests as violent, but who fail to hear the suffering in our lament. From Cleveland to Baltimore to Tulsa to Charlotte and beyond, the list of our children killed at the hands of police grows.
The question we ask now is at what point does this nation answer our cries of pain? Has the nation become so callous as to ignore it because those who are suffering are black?
I was left hopeful by Clinton's willingness to listen. She's spoken with the mothers of young men killed at the hands of police. She understands that people are calling for changes in an unjust criminal justice system that targets people because they are black. She understands that the solutions lie in building trust between communities and police and ending discrimination so that all of us have a stake in building a future in which our families thrive.
On Sunday, I shared with her the harsh reality: To acknowledge the pain black people are experiencing at this moment is too much truth for America to handle because it calls into question and challenges the narrative of America as a country founded on freedom and equality.
Instead, we who raise our voices are vilified for demanding action.
But Clinton did what so few are willing to do. She listened. She listened as we called for changes in funding police departments so they are rewarded for training their officers to de-escalate tense situations and recognize their own implicit biases. She listened as we called for public investment in our neighborhoods that have long since been ignored and marginalized. She listened as we called for good jobs and quality education and access to health care in black communities where people feel they have no options.
But mostly, she listened as we made the call for America to see us as humans and recognize that ours is not a perceived pain. That our suffering is real and we matter.
In response, she admired our work to keep protests in Charlotte peaceful and focused. She agreed that we must rebuild trust between our communities and the police and that accountability from the police must be part of that conversation. She committed to working with us to discuss specific policy solutions.
Listening to our hearts, our pain and our cries for change is a good start. Taking action to implement change is what needs to happen next.
It's also important to say that while being listened to is a start, we in Charlotte who are organizing to build a better future for our communities know that change is about power and who has it.
The recent protests are only the most visible aspect of our work: Behind the scenes we are registering to vote, building new community organizations and holding our leaders accountable. Clinton was here and listening and we are thankful. But we are not going to stop raising our voices.
We demand more than to be heard -- our communities need and demand action.
This moment is the start. This is how our lament turns into a declaration that America needs to hear. This is how that declaration becomes a groundswell for change to implement solutions that benefit all Americans.