By Zaneta Williams
I am a teacher. I educate, and live for the future through my children in the classroom. Perhaps that is what led me to attend the rally yesterday here in Dallas, TX, where I live. I grew up here, went to school in Texas, and learned what I know about myself, my family, my heritage while attending the University of Texas in Austin during the 80s. An activist while in college, I am accustomed to protests and gatherings and organizing for justice. None of my close friends said they were going, so I prayed up and went alone.
When I got downtown, there were scores of people and so many officers. The news media was everywhere. I drove around for a while looking for a parking space. Something led me to park two to three blocks away from Belo Garden. The first parking lot I got to was rather empty. I placed $5 in the meter, and it did not give me a ticket. I remember wondering if it was a sign that I should just leave. I decided to go somewhere else, another block away, and park on the street. The meter I got to was broken. I tried to look around for another space, and people were getting there and taking them fast. I decided I would be ok, and that I wouldn’t get a ticket.
There were lots of young people there, and older folks too. As I approached, I was struck by all of the different ethnicities. African American, African, White, Hispanic … all of us were together. There were lots of children, and babies. The organizers were on fire, and what was so impressive is that they were urging others to meet again the following week to help organize against police brutality. They kept saying that marching wasn’t enough. I took notes of the names of the groups so that I could volunteer. They were people like me who had had enough. I was reminded that no progress has been made for marginalized groups in this country without organizing, and changing laws. I knew I had to volunteer.
We began to march up Main Street. We were told to stay on the sidewalk, but there were so many people, that we were all in the street. Nothing rambunctious, or disrespectful; we were just walking, chanting, calling out that we could no longer be treated as before. My hat blew off, and a young sister ran to get it. Black men were talking to and walking with their families. Women were pushing their strollers. I kissed and hugged at least two folks that I knew. Solidarity.
As we got to the old courthouse, the dynamic minister who was there, Rev. Michael Waters, (interestingly enough, I taught his son last year in my third-grade class. I was so glad to see Rev. Waters there. A true minister of the people), reminded us that we stood where not so long ago, a White lynch mob had hung an African-American man, and then stopped the train to find any other African-American person they could find to kill. He reminded us to stay together, and that we were going back to our original place to disperse. As we walked away chanting, I remember feeling that I had walked a lot, and that it was almost time to leave.
As I crossed the street in front of El Centro College with the crowd, the crowd turned towards me and were running and pushing. I cursed, threw out my arm to stop myself from being trampled, turned, and ran. When I got back to the corner, I remember everyone asking one another what had happened. I saw a middle-aged, heavy-set White woman on the ground. A man was giving her water. I asked her if she needed me to call the police. She said no. I asked her husband (?) if he needed me to help him help her up. He thanked me and said that he could handle it. A young Hispanic man was on crutches. “Are you ok old man?” I smiled and asked. He said he was fine, but wondered what happened. I did too. I walked back across the street to see what had happened.
All of a sudden, a young man began to shout for us to go away from the scene. I ran back across the street, right in front of where all of the action took place afterwards. I then heard the shots. I saw a crowd running. I began to run too. I felt it was time to head towards my car. I couldn’t go the way I came, so I had to walk through the West End section of downtown. I asked two Black men to walk me to my car. They both showed me that I could not go in the direction that I wanted. I saw a family walking, arms locked together. I asked if I could walk with them; my hat blew off again. One of the brothers I was talking to ran it to me, as I was walking with “my family.” The African-American man heading the family took me as far as he was parked. I knew instinctively that I should not walk alone. I went into a restaurant, used the restroom, got some water, and began to talk to other protesters who were hiding out, trying to get to their cars.
I went outside to charge my phone because my family and friends were texting, and trying to find out if I was ok. I saw a Black police officer approach a group of young Black men who had been in the restaurant. He was telling them they had to leave the restaurant. The young men became angry. They told him that they were not going back into the line of fire. I began to calm them down, and tell them not to argue. I saw fear on the officer’s face. He told them he was doing his job, and then they asked why he wasn’t getting rid of the people in the restaurant. He then said he would clear it out as soon as they finished eating. He said the restaurant wanted us to leave in case anyone got shot, they would not be sued. I’m reacting to this now, feeling how crass he was, how insensitive, how full of fear, but at the time, I just wanted to get to my car. After the young men began to leave, I asked the officer if I could ask him a question. I asked him what he thought of the Alton Sterling situation. He yelled at me. “I don’t care about that, you understand!? I do not give a damn about that!” As he walked away, I reminded him of the high ranking New York officer who was racially profiled.
I tried to get a cab, and it was packed with people. As the driver rode away, his eyes locked with mine with a look of sorrow that he had no room for me. I turned around and saw that the young men were sitting on the corner, with nowhere to go. “Come with me brothers,” I called to them. “Get off of these streets, it’s not safe. Walk me to my car. I’m a woman walking alone, and I need you to walk with me. I will take you home.” “Yes ma’am,” they answered to me as if they had known me all of their short, beautiful lives.
We walked, and talked, and bonded. I listened to their stories about not finishing school, being in jail, and I felt their hopelessness, and knew there were even deeper stories that I had yet to hear. I talked to them, pleaded with them to stop all illegal activity, get a trade, finish school. They agreed. They were young, curious, constantly asking questions, very aware of my presence, and they felt safe. I felt safe with them, and knew they would protect me. We finally found my car, and I took one to the county hospital so he could visit his “girl,” and the other I took to a convenience store up the street from where he lived. He and I realized we both knew some of his former teachers. He told me his real name, and asked me about the end of the world. I told him to stop wandering, anchor himself, not to go to jail anymore because they are modern-day plantations, and told him I believed he could finish school, and I wanted him to believe it too. I made him promise to go home.
I never felt afraid, not once, because I am safe. I knew I had gone to take those two young men home. My participation was not in vain yesterday, nor will my continuing to organize, plan, and work towards a better day for our country, and our world.