Living in Baton Rouge at the Boiling Point

By: Jacquelyn Grant Brown

Prior to this week’s racial unrest I shared with my sister that I’d been feeling extremely anxious—wearing my shoulders for earrings, anxious.  Then, the murder of Alton Sterling happened in my home town of Baton Rouge, LA.  The very next day, Philando Castile in Minnesota.  Both at the hands of local police.  Both captured on video–one in real time.

It seems as if my body had been bracing itself for the impact.

Being African American (and female) means living in a constant state of alert, or simmer, not only for myself, but for my loved ones. It comes standard with brown skin.  I toggle back and forth between simmer and boil each time a non-black officer commits an egregious offense against another African American person in the U.S., but nevertheless, gets to go home to sleep safe and sound in his own bed (on administrative leave w/pay—standard procedure according to police departments across the nation).

The definition of simmer is: to stay just below the boiling point while being heated.  

I live just below the boiling point while being h (e)ated every day of my life.

I attended the Sterling vigil hoping to be guided on how to DO something. Im tired of not knowing what to do. I’m exhausted with feelings of idleness and hopelessness. I’m tired of the silence that often quickly follows the songs. I’m so over faith WITHOUT works.

Nevertheless, there were many valid points made today and the peaceful assembly and outpouring of support was solid and heartfelt.

I hope to continue to get involved in the coming days as events are ongoing. But, I do not want to make a SIGN, I want to make a SOUND–one that will shake the earth off it axis and make the murdering of our people punishable by law once and for all. Better yet, make it stop.

-Facebook Post

In addition to being a Black woman, I am also a mother of two young adults.  There was a time that I feared a little less for the safety of my daughter than I did for my son.  I have been taught that Black men are targets in this world.  This says nothing to what I have seen and experienced for myself. In the current racial climate, police brutality perpetrated on brown bodies might occur as quickly on a Sandra Bland as it would a Michael Brown. I now, unfortunately, fear for both my children equally.  There is a measure of unrest that occurs when either of them isn’t home before bed time.  I cannot exhale until the twist of key and rotation of lock tumbler tells me they are safe.  Two years ago, I turned on the TV to local news outlets reporting the murder by police of Michael Brown, an eighteen year old African American male.  

My husband and son are both named Michael Brown.

Wednesday evening, I never gave a second thought about attending the vigil for Mr. Sterling in front of the Triple S Food Mart at the corner of Fairfield and North Foster Drive, a few blocks from where I grew up.  It is a predominantly low-income, African American community where many people I have known all my life still live, attend school, work and raise families.  Multiple races were represented there on Wednesday.   As I made my way through the crowd, there was a sense of hopeful angst that is difficult to explain.  It was a mixture of “I know this time something is going to be different” and “I know this time nothing is going to be different.”  It was reflected in every brown face in that small, overcrowded block.  The vigil lasted about an hour and consisted of singing, testimonies, prayers, and many, many tears.  The closing included a candle lighting/extinguishing and balloon release.

Representative C. Denise Marcelle, Democrat- District 62  speaking at the protest in Baton Rouge above.

 

Meanwhile, social and news media were in the throes of circulating information about Mr. Castile.

The heat had been turned up a notch.  I was equal parts sad and angry.  One day later, a shooting of police in Dallas, wrongly linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, ignited the nation.  The emotional escalation here in Baton Rouge intensified and has been growing ever since.  There has been an onslaught of the presence of law enforcement and not in a good way.

My dad, a product of the civil rights movement and a Navy veteran, called me Saturday morning afraid and upset about what he had seen on the world news in New York, to urge me not to attend any protests. Although, I didn’t actively join marches this weekend, I was on the scene at several events.  What I witnessed was disturbing to say the least.  I can’t say I have ever seen a SWAT team, or helicopters circling before except in the movies. Protestors were pushed around and subsequently arrested for breaking the law by law enforcement in riot and combat gear.  

It is Monday and I am still angry.  I am still sad about the senseless loss of lives—all of them, police included.  I am back at work trying to regain a state of simmer, but it’s difficult to stay below boiling while constantly being h(e)ated.   

 

Jacquelyn Grant Brown is a poet, a breast cancer survivor and works at LSU.