“If I disappear, please come find me,” my political activist friend said to me at dinner the other night. Is she at greater risk than anyone else? Do we not all have reason to be fearful these days?
This past week, the Supreme Court passed a law stating that anyone arrested for any reason can be strip searched upon booking into jail. This means that a person arrested for failing to pay a parking ticket can be strip searched when booked into jail. Does resistance to such indignity constitute resisting a police officer? Does the law allow a police officer to strike someone for doing so? Of course. Another new law on the books states that it is a federal offense to peacefully demonstrate at any location where secret service agents are present. (This is how Cornel West was recently arrested for demonstrating outside a federal building.) What happened to our right to gather? To protest? How do protestors know if a secret service agent is present or not? Do you want to place bets on whether or not secret service agents will be strategically placed in locations where government would rather not have a protest occur? It is also legal for a “suspected terrorist” to be arrested, denied a trial, denied a statement of charges, and whisked off to a high security prison in a country outside the borders of the U.S. This has happened to innocent individuals, some held for years, some still incarcerated. Held with no ability to communicate with their families or anyone from their former life. It is possible for a prisoner to be accused of attacking a prison guard and therefore placed in solitary confinement for the rest of his or her life. Indeed, two men in Mississippi have been held in solitary confinement for over 40 years as a result of just such an accusation. With no discussion or examination of the facts.
In a “Driving While Black” incident in St. Louis in the early 70s, my husband Ron spent a weekend in jail for having dirty license plates. If that happened today, he could have been strip searched, could have resisted such indignity and therefore been beaten, conceivably whisked out of the country as a suspected terrorist, placed in solitary confinement, denied communication with his loved ones. Each one of us, whether politically active or not, is vulnerable to being swept up in a Kafkaesque series of events that turns our life into a nightmare of vast proportions. Do I want these “safeguards” so that the government can “protect” me? No, I want protection from the government. From the police. What I want at the moment is to flee the country. But my life is here. My children, my friends, my family. I could not start over at this age. And if I had fled when I was young, I would have lived my life in exile from all of my family because I would rarely (if ever) have been able to return to this country to see them. My ancestors fled state-sponsored terror in Eastern Europe in just this way and it is a wrenching experience.
Instead of fleeing I am seeking allies, I am looking for a host of many who will raise an outcry in defense of me and my loved ones should we need it. Let us stick together. Let the whole world be watching when an injustice occurs. If my talented Black son or my distinguished Black husband is gunned down, please stand with me to demand justice. If I disappear, please come find me.