Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
I'm a few days late, but New Year's Day was the anniversary of Oscar Grant's death. Check out this great video by Yak Films, made in honor of Oscar. Art, dance, music and film used to try to make sense of a world with senseless violence. Very powerful.
Rest in Peace, Oscar.
'Never place a period where
God has placed a comma.'
I’ve been trying to write about my Sunday, which was a few days ago now. It was a rainy morning, and with Oscar Grant
on my mind I needed a place to think and pray. So I went to church.
kind of church. Well, maybe not that
kind, if what you’re thinking is angry misogynistic homophobic against-everything-I-stand-for church, the kind that makes the most noise and seems to get the most attention. No, I went to another type of church, one where they follow principles of compassion and peace and are open and affirming to all people
I explain this because I’ve had to “come out” at many times in my life – as queer
, of course, which for me can mean admitting I like women in hostile homophobic spaces or admitting I like men in spaces where my belonging as a part of the “gay community” might be challenged. And sometimes saying that I have a spiritual life feels like a type of coming out, too. Though Christians in this country are, at most times, privileged, for me this part of my identity is sometimes another layer I have to negotiate when it comes to acceptance. Just as there are religious circles that are hateful to queer folks, there are queer circles where saying you go to church means you might as well be admitting “but some of my best friends are homophobes.”
Let’s clear this up: like queer folks and immigrants
, or queer folks and people of color
, or any other intersection of our identities, queer folks and people of faith are not entirely separate
and opposite people. There are queer people in churches and temples, leading congregations
or just taking part, and expressing their spirituality otherwise all over the place. And, some people of faith believe that part of their call is not to exclude or condemn queer and trans folks (or even welcome us with some “hate the sin, not the sinner”-type judgment), but to welcome and affirm us as we are, to help us on our journey towards loving and accepting ourselves, and, as Desmund Tutu calls for here
, to stand up and take action
against our persecution.
For me personally, faith serves a similar purpose as writing – it gives me hope. In the moments when I can’t find justice anywhere else, can’t look for it in the criminal justice system or rely on institutions like police forces for it, I look instead to art, to music and dance, to writing, and yes, to some higher power. I look to real people, those real bodies that hold real truths that will reveal themselves if you look for them. And I look to my silly idea that there is something beyond this world. I may not always believe that justice will be served in a court of law, or that hearts can be healed over prison terms, but I do believe that at times bodies and hearts can find healing and balance in the joy, laughter and tears shared over art. And shared in communities of faith.
The faithful people I know
are not the angry, hateful ones you see on TV, but loving, compassionate, justice-seeking people I can often count on when I’m trying to find some glimmer of hope. This isn’t to try to preach about my beliefs, but just to spread the word that these folks are out there. We’re here. We’re queer. And sometimes we pray.
More poetry for Oscar Grant
. Very raw. I'm shaking off uncertainty and posting the rough drafts because those are the ones with the most heart. make it right
where can i find you
if not in courts or prisons
you’re not in books of law or in judges’ gavels
i’m finding teeth, gnashed loose,
in buckets of paint
and i’m wondering if they’re yours
strands of hair make the brushes
i sweep over the canvas
nobody’s ever made these brushes
with hairs like ours before
and it makes me paint images that swirl
like the world is made of clouds and spirals
tear me down
and i melt into this canvas
become the page, and here
i find you,
not how i’d imagine you
for what you’ve become now
and any image of you
you tiger lily
called only by names
both vicious and delicate
we can’t take back
the sound of your voice
not even when it echoes while we sleep
not even when we wake
i’m here, i’m here
where are we
we call out
as if this place could
feel like home to you
but this voice is so soft
never knew i could keep it so near
so near so near
though never quite clear
i’m telling myself nursery rhymes now
tossing my body
turning my cheek
waiting to feel this burn on the other side
in case that could make it right
as if anything
could make it right
you’re not tumbling anymore
i think i like to call to you
to tell you it’s okay because
i need to hear the words myself
now, i think
maybe that’s you talking to me,
you want me to hear them too
after all, where you’ve gone
you don’t need my comfort anymore
as you rest
as you rest in peace
and i think this chaos you left behind
all came from your heart
these voices we’re lifting--
voices that may have never been heard
this fight we’re fighting--
calling for justice in your name
only now can you leave this earth in peace
the world, finally,
working as we should have all along
holding your troubles in our hands,
move on forward,
we’ll make this right for you.
Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who killed Oscar Grant, was sentenced to only two years
in prison, including time already served. This was the shortest possible term.
This I already knew – let’s seek our sense of justice somewhere other than the courts
feel your presence here
can i say this is from hands unseen
when at the end of my climb
i see everything i thought i’d lost
my reflection in the glittering sand
of morning dew a name to call
myself written in the glowing moss
upon a rock you know we’d make
a perfect painting, you and i, sitting
side by side eye to eye only
we couldn’t find paint the color of
these tears (i run them clear to make mist
vibrant with all your colors) and we’d
never find a red so dark as your blood
nor one that keeps running
from wounds with open doors.
I’m thinking of Oscar Grant and his family today, as we prepare to hear about the sentencing of Johannes Mehserle
, the BART cop who killed him. I’m not entirely hopeful that the courts will serve adequate justice, of course, especially after the July verdict
. I just hope for some sense of peace for those who knew Oscar Grant, and for the city of Oakland, and for people of color everywhere who are more than a little shaken each time one of our lives is taken so senselessly.
Speaking of injustice, I’ve been writing some of those sidewalk poems
to address San Francisco’s passing of Prop L
, the sit/lie measure that criminalizes anyone who wants to take a moment’s rest on the sidewalk. If you can call these poems. Some of them are deliberate non-poems, like this one: hey, asshole. that gum your shoe just picked up? i put it there on purpose. because you’re an asshole.
Yeah. Expect more of those gems on here soon. I’ll be spending the rest of the day wondering if I have any right to call myself a poet. But writing like this makes me feel a little better, anyway. I recommend it if you’re pissed off about something. Don’t worry about flair. Just write that you’re pissed about it. Or do something about it -- I hear there's an action coming up in response to Prop L, that anyone in the city can participate in.
Here's a Facebook event
calling for a sit-in at noon on Monday, November 8, in front of City Hall or on a sidewalk wherever you happen to be. Help make some noise about this.
Anyway. I’m thinking of you today, Oscar Grant. No matter what happens, you won’t be forgotten.
Yesterday's event turned out fabulously. Lots of good people turned out to support the work of CUAV, share conversation, laughs and food, and listen to some really inspirational musical artists.
And I got to read my poetry! I haven't been reading much in public lately, and I was glad for the chance to do it there. I've never felt like I'm much of a performance poet, really, even though people often see me and learn that I write, and that I write about social justice, and they assume that I'm something of a slam poet. I really admire slam poets but I can't do what they do, and I usually think of my work as more meant to be read than heard.
But there was something about the energy in that place yesterday, and in spite of my plans to simply read
what I'd written, I ended up delivering
it. I didn't think of it as performing really, but definitely tapping into the energy of the folks watching and knowing that maybe what I was saying meant something to them and feeling free to not just read the words but feel
I loved it.
These poems appeared on my blog earlier, but I just want to share them here now: When You Hope for Justice and Get a Slap in the Face for Wanda Johnson and Oscar Grantwhen you hope for justice and get a slap in the face,hold your head high.feel the sting of it,know the pain is realand don’t let anybody tell youit was never there.cry.know your tears aren’t for nothing,let them fall to the earthto water the seedsthat will grow the rootsto anchor the treesthat cannot be moved.know that you, too,cannot be moved.when you hope for justiceand get a slap in the face,look to the past.to those who were beaten and left to die,whose sadness and rageleft them still standing,and built the ground we stand on today.look to the future,where today’s heavy heartsare tomorrow’s beacons of hope.our hope may be lostbut our determination can be found again.
This Isn’t a Poem About Justice
This isn’t a poem about justiceI’m not supposed to write about wild and out there things that you can’t get your hands on that might not really exist.But if you promise not to call me crazyI’ll tell you in a whisper that I felt justice. it was soaking the earth in warm rain falling and lightning bolts striking the Detroit River lighting up the sky like the eyes of a hopeful child.Promise not to laughwhen I say I looked into the soul of a stranger Our eyes met, our energies passed between us like the shared tremble of an earthquake. No need to ask did you feel that? I can’t call him a stranger anymore.Promise you won’t turn me inwhen I speak of bonds formed on darkened dance floors between banners calling for revolutions what I did might have violated some part of the Patriot Act and if they lock me up and torture me and ask what I know about terror I’ll say her lips tasted like cinnamon.We spit justice into microphones spilled it from paint cans onto canvases wore it on t-shirts and fried it into foods, so it burned our tongues and slipped from our lips when we spoke.I say justice is alive as the red rose of so many poems but its scent thickens the air like the heat of the sun and its thorns are inescapable.