‘We know what it is to bury a child’ the black mothers turning mourning into a movement
Parents of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell have been united by the deaths of their children. Here, they speak of their loss, the fight for black lives and their fears for Trumps America
Since the 1955 murder of teenager Emmett Till, whose mother insisted on an open casket for her sons mutilated body, the civil-rights movement has often articulated its grievances through the suffering of mothers. The Mothers of the Movement parents of some of the most high-profile black victims of police violence in America each found themselves raising and losing children in a system stacked against them. But this is a time when black women are no longer just faces co-opted for the cause both Black Lives Matter and We Charge Genocide, an anti-police violence group in Chicago, were founded by black women.
It is an unenviable task to be a mother to a black child in America. Black students are far more likely to go to poor schools with inexperienced teachers and fewer teaching resources. In 2012, black students were the subjects of 35% of school arrests, although they made up fewer than 25% of the student population. The systemic racism of the school-to-prison pipeline means that, once arrested, black children are vastly more likely than white children to be sentenced as adults and sent to adult correctional facilities, where they are twice as likely to be assaulted, five times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and eight times as likely to kill themselves.
For adults, the situation is even worse. A new Harvard study has confirmed that black people are more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by the police.
A huge number of the crimes committed by black Americans are crimes of poverty. Financial and fiscal inequalities penetrate every level and corner of black life in America median household income for white US citizens in 2015 was around 65% higher than that of black people in the country. Subsequent governments have chosen to funnel spending into policing and prisons, and not enough into education, healthcare and job training. Top this with a prison population that is 40% black when black people are only 13% of the US population and the scale of the USs race crisis is clear.
The Mothers travel around the US speaking out on behalf of their dead children, moving beyond battling to make people aware of stories towards seeking legislative change. The group formally came into existence after meeting with Hillary Clinton in November 2015. Clinton advised them to band together as a constant drumbeat. They received a standing ovation at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, and hit the road together to campaign relentlessly, speaking out about police racism, gun violence and criminal-justice reform. And they watched together as Donald Trump, a candidate beloved by racists and racism deniers, plunged their future, and the future of black America, into uncertainty.
It is impossible to understand what it is like to be a women who has had a child murdered, but one might have expected the Mothers of the Movement to be a solemn or depressing bunch. We spent two days following them around the UK prior to their talk at the Oxford Union on Monday 21 November. They are an awe-inspiring group, albeit unimpressed by British weather. Funny and dignified, insightful and riotous always referring to each other as Ms Carr or Ms Bell they spend much of their downtime teasing one another, discussing fashion and making holiday plans. But every so often there is a glimpse of a tear, or a poignant pause while they gather the strength to open their wounds yet again. They rarely discuss what happened to their children because, as they say, theyre the last people that need reminding.
I did not stand up until Trayvon was shot down. He cant tell his side of the story
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin (died in Sanford, Florida, in 2012, aged 17)
Martin was shot in the chest while walking home from a convenience store by George Zimmerman, a member of the (police-administered) neighbourhood watch. Zimmerman was initially released without arrest, then a second-degree murder charge was brought amid intense media scrutiny. After pleading self-defence, citing Floridas stand your ground law, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges.