Young Black Women Organize Hendersonville, North Carolina Protest against Police Killings--Call to Defund Police


PNNscholar1 - Posted on 17 June 2020

Author: 
Tony Robles

The cry for justice was heard in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  The last words of George Floyd were heard, his last breath swept across the seemingly peaceful, tranquil town of Hendersonville, known as the city of four seasons in this part of western North Carolina.  Cries for justice, demands for justice are heard from Minneapolis to Georgia, from Seattle to Korea to France to Palestine—all across the globe.  And in Hendersonville the tongues of young black women and men will not be silent.  On Saturday June 6th nearly 400 people gathered in front of the Hendersonville police department with a message.  In this time of pandemic, those who are overlooked are now deemed essential.  What is the essential message?  Who are deemed essential, whose voices are heard, silenced?  The young black women who called the community together have felt and lived with silence.  “Just because this is a small community doesn’t mean we can’t have an impact” said organizer Kaelah M. Avery as the crowd began to swell, bearing signs with words “Black Lives Matter”, “Black Women Matter”, and “Say Their Names” among others—a gathering of people black, white and brown donning masks—in unity as people of Hendersonville, and of community.

There is a shift worldwide.  A generation is rising and asking questions, tossing out assumptions and envisioning a new world.  “This is not a matter of white vs. black, it’s us against racism” said a young black man to the crowd.  One young white woman said she was compelled to join the protest to “call out my own white privilege”, questioning the very notion of whiteness and the very real, very brutal and tragic implications it holds for people of color.  A group of young Latinx youth held signs that read: Black Lives matter and Tu Lucha es Mi Lucha (Your fight is my fight).  One of the Latinx group said that there is a connection of police brutality among black and brown youth and that it was important to show solidarity with the black community against a common oppressor.  A black woman in her mid 50’s stood among the crowd with a black t-shirt emblazoned with the hashtag: #SeeMe.  “They see us in a different way” she explained as the sun glared in a sharp angle.  The woman, a lifelong resident of Hendersonville, added, “The assumption is that we are criminals; that we are evil.  They see us differently.”

The voice of Kaelah Avery came over the speakers, spreading beyond the immediate area and beyond the clusters of people, gaining the attention of passersby:

 

For some reason, people assume women of color, especially black women,

 Are being belligerent when they are simply passionate or speaking out of

 frustration. Do not confuse my passion with rage. I am enraged by the actions

of the Minneapolis Police Department and to the circumstances that led to

the murders of countless numbers of our black community.  But I’m even more

passionate about the need for fundamental change.”

 

And in the presence of the Hendersonville police, the people of Hendersonville, the history of Hendersonville, the silence of Hendersonville, she continues:

 

In 2014, 287 people were killed by police for

 Minor crimes such as sleeping in park, drug possession

 Looking suspicious or having a mental health crisis.

Imagine a society that doesn’t respond to these situations

With the threat or reality of violence but instead targets the

Underlying issues behind these actions by defunding the police

and redistributing that money to address homelessness, drug addiction

and preventative healthcare.”

 A middle aged Latino man spoke, saying that America is very sophisticated in its racism, that it is subtle to where it looks like something good.  A young African American man approached the microphone and said, “It’s good you’re out here today but—some of you—your apathy is killing us.”

As a person of color who has lived in Hendersonville since July, I can say that I have been glared at in public, as if my presence were an affront.  A woman in a passing car gave me the finger as I walked the Greenville Highway.  I am keenly aware of my skin.  One’s perception of me, fueled by white supremacy or by what Toni Morrison coined, “The white gaze” can have brutal and tragic implications.  But there are also people who are quite friendly, civil—offering a hello, good morning, God Bless—those things that hold community together.  But as a person of color, you can’t forget your own skin because to do that is to open yourself up to danger.  This awareness was articulated by the late poet Wanda Coleman who said, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

I had the opportunity to talk to a young black brother, Preston Blakely.  Preston is 25 years of age and was elected to the Fletcher City Council in November.  He expressed frustration at the racism he endures.  “I have to be aware of my race everywhere.  Should I have my hands in my pocket?  Should I have my hood on?  It leaves me angry, frustrated and sad but these aren’t new emotions.”  Blakely described being pulled over by an officer for no apparent reason. It turned out the cop pulled him over to “Check his lights”.  “It feels like they are looking for ways to get into an altercation” Blakely added, noting that he has dealt with these experiences most of his life.

The rally culminated in a peaceful march to the Historic Courthouse on Main street where signs were held and names of those killed by police were called: Brionna Taylor, George Floyd, Armaud Arbery (Arbery was killed by a former officer) and others.  As the?” march approached the historic courthouse, a man was seen in front of Mike’s on Main holding an assault rifle.  The windows were covered with slabs of wood.  “What is that?” I said to a man next to me marching.  “It sure ain’t a grilled cheese sandwich” the man replied, walking forward.

The voices rising from Hendersonville join voices in Minneapolis where defunding the police is actively being pursued by their city council, as well as in San Francisco and in other cities.  They join voices in New York, England, France, Korea—across the planet where people are coming together and fighting back.  They are envisioning a new world, a new way of going about the business of life and what it means to be human.  This vision is alive in Hendersonville, lead by young black women whose voices are clear as the skies opening up new possibilities on this stretch of western North Carolina.  As one speaker said, “It’s good to protest but we have to get involved, we have to run for office and attend the city council meetings.”  As the rally ended, people headed in different directions, each with a piece of the movement to take beyond themselves, to their neighborhoods, co-workers, friends.  I headed to my car with the words of one man  still vivid in my mind: Please listen to us. We can’t breathe…listen to us.

(Image: Organizers Shiauna Ledbetter, Jasmine Mills and Kaelah Avery, courtesy of Shiauna Ledbetter's Facebook Page)

 

© 2020 Tony Robles

 

 

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