I will try and talk about this, though it may not be beautiful and it may not be perfect. The world is an imperfect place so I will allow myself to become one with that reality. As today is a nationwide demonstration of solidarity, unity, and peaceful demands for human rights to be upheld in our country, we must remember our local communities and not grow complacent because we live in a “safe place.”
Olympia, which I consider to be a general bastion of goodwill, politically active, and liberally minded folk, has had its share of violence and tragedy—as all places have and do. I am going to mention just three incidents, out of many more I’m sure have occurred in the quiet corners of our community, but that stood out in media and in my immediate consciousness as I write this.
May 21st, 2015: Two young black men, Bryson and Andre, were shot by a police officer of the Olympia PD after they attempted to steal beer from the local Safeway. They were confronted and chased by the lone officer, who did not wait for backup, and who shot both of them. He would later claim the skateboard they had was a deadly weapon and he was never charged with anything. The officer’s discharge sprayed bullets into a residential home, where fortunately, no one was further injured. Both men survived but Bryson is paralyzed from the waist down. This occurred in the Cooper Point area, near The Evergreen State College.
August 16th, 2016: A black man is stabbed as he stands outside the China Clipper bar in downtown Olympia. The white man, a self-identified white supremacist from Richland, WA, saw the man with his white girlfriend outside the bar and stabbed him. When interviewed by police, the white supremacist stated he had taken a blood oath to fight on the street, and if he was let go tonight, he planned on heading down to the next Donald Trump rally and stomping out more of the Black Lives Matter group.
Why do I mention this? They happened a while ago, these things happen, unfortunately. Well, last night, January 20th, 2017, my husband and I were out with friends downtown. We passed smashed windows, which we would later learn had been shot out, and went to the China Clipper to sing karaoke. We then moved on to the Oly Underground bar where our friend’s coworker was celebrating her 40th birthday. We arrived to discover the coworker’s husband, who is native, had been attacked by a passing group of white supremacists. He had superficial facial wounds and when I went to apologize and check in with him, he waved me off, ensuring me he was fine and to “please have fun.” It was his wife’s big birthday bash and he did not want to be the reason it ended or was disturbed.
This man, I don’t know if he reported the incident to police or whether he will today, but he was strong and brave and trying to dispel the horror of what had happened because it was a special day for his wife. But it makes me wonder, how many things like this happen that go unreported? How much racially motivated violence never sees media news? I’m sure it’s a lot.
Why do I bring any of this up? Because sometimes it takes the close to home events to really drive home the reality of the world at large. My husband, who is half black, benefits from the privilege of being “light skinned.” He has never had problems with the police, has never been confronted, or hurt, or directly threatened. But, as many people have pointed out, he actually looks more middle eastern than black. So he meticulously shaves before we go to the airport, he dresses nicely, tips generously, and does everything he can to combat the negative stereotypes he knows are associated with his skin color. Before being married to him, I knew none of these things, that these are the things POC have to consider and think about and plan around. But we frequent the Clipper, we are active in our outings in our community, and I can’t help but wonder how long we can continue to dodge the bullet that is being a POC who is in the “wrong place and wrong time” and becomes a target. How long can we be insulated from direct harm, even as our community suffers around us?
I woke up at 4AM this morning, from a fresh nightmare about my husband dying (those have been coming more frequently as of late) and as my heart beat in my throat and tears wet my pillow, I realize we are not insulated from direct harm. Because we elected a person who upholds these beliefs and values, who sanctions and does not speak out against the violence perpetrated by his followers, and who values his ego above the safety of the citizens he is sworn to represent. We are being directly harmed in every conceivable way.
Why did I write this? Because I want it to stand as a document, a testament, to the time we are living in. Because I don’t want to hide, or dismiss, or pretend this isn’t happening, even here in safe progressive Oly. It’s happening everywhere and it’s likely even worse in other places. Protests will become more important than ever, but so will individual testimony, documentation, and expression of those who witness, experience, or are victimized by violence in all its many creative forms.
I wish you all safety and love and strong unity today.