Thursday, November 27, 2014

What's at Stake: A Letter to My Family

Last night, I sent an email to my white, predominantly conservative family. My partner, Jocelyn, forwarded it to her white, predominantly conservative family. One of her family members was touched and asked me to post it publicly.

I realized that it was hypocritical to protest to strangers both online and on the streets of Seattle, while ignoring just a single appeal to my family. I can be just one more sign-holding body in a crowd, but I am more likely to influence those who know me. That thought stuck in my brain until I wrote and sent the email.

After I wrote this letter, I heard an additional, chilling statistic. Death by police is the second leading cause of homicide in the state of Utah, where I was born. In the state where Darrien Hunt was killed for wearing a samurai costume. More citizens are killed by police, than by gang members, drug dealers, and child abusers. What could scream police state more than that?

SUBJECT: What's at Stake...

I wouldn't normally send a political email to family. But this is personal. I don't need you to agree with me, I don't want you to argue with me. I don't need you to do anything except consider these deeply felt concerns from a member of your family. 

Sending this is is a little scary. I'm writing this with shaky hands. But I feel impelled, because this is perhaps the most important cause going on in my lifetime.

I was raised in a certain political environment, one in which I learned Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist, an instigator, an anti-American. I was taught that the protests of the Civil Rights Movement were drummed up by communist thugs trying to overthrow our American way of life. I learned all the reasons why the marches and riots of the 60s were unneeded and unjustified.

But I also learned that I had the right to protect my life and property, with force, if needed. That if the state began to infringe on my rights, I should be willing to fight to the death to protect my liberty. I learned about the power of the Bill of Rights, especially the First and Second Amendments. 

At home, I learned that freedom wasn't free. That sometimes, it had to be fought for.

So on Monday, I protested the fact that Darren Wilson will not stand trial for killing a black teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. I held up traffic. I stood before a line of impatient drivers, held up my hands, and chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!" 

I laid down in the middle of the wet intersection of 4th and Pine, in silence for 4 and a half minutes, in remembrance of the 4.5 hours that Mike lay dead on a Ferguson street before the police moved his body. As I lay there, looking up at the skyscrapers, I listened to the sound of sobbing – sobs from people who were unwilling to believe that Mike Brown deserved to be shot. Sobs of people who can see that he was a human being deserving of life. 

I listened to the sobs of people whose eyes are open to the injustices that happen every day, not just to Mike Brown, but to each black person who is killed every 28 hours by law enforcement, including Tamir Rice, a 12 year old, who just this week was shot in the stomach for playing with a gun that shoots plastic pellets. 

And the double-injustice of police who are protected from accountability, so long as their victims "deserved it." 

And the triple injustice of black people who rightly fear this could happen to them. This is a fear that none of us with white skin ever have to consider.

I listened to the sobs of Roland and the sobs of our daughter Betsey as they embraced in the middle of the street. You see, they are both black. Roland whispered into Betsey's ear: "Now you promise me you'll do everything I have ever told you around police. Promise me." He is trying to save her life. 

While I was learning childhood lessons that I should rise up in arms against a tyrannical police state, black children everywhere learn that they must always, always, say, "Yes, sir, no sir," no matter how unfairly they are treated by police or the government, no matter how long they suffer under constant oppression.

The risk of death-by-officer is not an imaginary, trumped up fantasy that black people whine about because they have chips on their shoulders. I said 1 black person is killed by police every 28 hours. ( and

These actions are excused by police, the media, and by society through dehumanizing, demeaning, and dismissing African-Americans, the majority of whom are upstanding, hard-working, kind, compassionate, good people. Because of these excuses, law enforcement is rarely held accountable for the abuse of their power.

If this is not the kind of police state I was raised to abhor, I'm not sure what is.

So Monday night, I stood within earshot of police officers and shouted, "F*ck the police!" (Pardon the profanity, but it pales in comparison to the offenses the state is committing against citizens of this great nation.) I knew it wasn't their fault, those Seattle officers who did a fine job routing traffic around us. Most officers work hard, and many of them are good people who risk their lives to protect all equally.

But too many police officers are not held accountable for their abuse of state power. Do we truly believe that there are capital offenses where an officer should be the judge, jury, and executioner? 

All this time spent debating whether Mike Brown had robbed a convenience store that day.. does it matter? Do we really believe that justifies his murder? We debate whether Mike Brown smoked pot. Does it matter? Is that a capital offense now? We debate whether he tried to kill Darren Wilson.. even though Mike Brown died, unarmed, 135 feet away from Wilson, because he had already been shot. He was running for his life.

Here is what I would like you to consider.. not be convinced, but just.. consider. Consider whether we should be talking about whether each black person killed every 28 hours deserves to be killed. Ask whether Tamir Rice, 12 years old, should have been killed for playing with a toy gun. Ask whether Darrien Hunt, a teen dressed in a costume with a fake sword, on his way to a comics convention (something I have done) should have been gunned down by police. Ask if that's okay with you. Set aside your attempts to excuse this for one second and ask if that's okay.

Since the death of Mike Brown in August, 14 black teenagers have been executed by police. Here is a list of their names, and who they were: 

I want you to reflect. Are you okay with supporting a government that allows this? 

I am not okay at all. It flies in the face of everything I've been taught. And because it is not okay, I have been protesting. I will protest again on Friday. I intend to interrupt shoppers on Black Friday, to tangle up traffic in Seattle on the busiest shopping day of the year. And if it comes to it, I am willing to be tear gassed, arrested, and even shot, over this issue. 

Because I am not free if my fellow citizens live in fear of the state. I have no rights if my children risk their lives for the crime of being black in America. I am not free if those abusing state power are not brought to justice, if those wearing government uniforms are not turned over to due process to stand trial for a crime that robbed an American citizen of his most important right: His right to life.

And this is just the grossest of the injustices, which are too numerous to list in one email, that the people of Ferguson, indeed, citizens all over America, have endured for their entire lives. 

These protests and riots did not happen in a vacuum. 

As you hear these news stories of protests, riots, and burning buildings, ask yourself what you might do if these were white kids being gunned down by unaccountable representatives of the state? Before snapping to a judgement, just let this question linger. Think of the names of your sons and daughters. Imagine they have been killed, and now the police and news media are putting your child on trial. They are smearing your family's name, in order to make the killing seem fair and right. And your child is not the first. The cries of parents have gone unheard for years.

If you are willing to bring out the guns to fight tyranny, but you judge these people harshly for doing the same, then ask yourself why. Ask yourself what is really the difference between your children, and theirs? 

Take a moment to consider the words of Christ on this matter: Judge not that ye be therefore judged. If ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me. Love thy enemy as thyself. 

I'd ask you to consider one more thing: Stop thinking of black people as thugs. Stop thinking of black communities as crime-ridden neighborhoods where they feed upon their own. Stop thinking of them as useless welfare recipients, moochers off the state. Stop thinking of them as people with no sense of family values. Stop thinking of them as gang-bangers who are looking for trouble. These, and other pre-judgements, are dehumanizing. They are racist. They lead to snap judgements. 

These lines of reasoning have allowed our society to get to this point, because we're encouraged to think that African-Americans deserve whatever is coming to them. It leads to false assumptions about why these problems plague black neighborhoods. There are alternative explanations. Those explanations are just a Google click away, if you're willing to actually listen to the perspectives of those who have walked in those shoes.

As I lay in the intersection, looking up at the helicopters, Roland turned and asked me, "Luna.. how did you get here?" He meant, given my background, how did I end up on this side of the fence, being an activist for social justice causes, defying the law and disrupting traffic? 

I hope this email gives some kind of inkling as to the answer. My principles haven't really changed. I've just changed who I am willing to apply them to. I have changed what I know of the world. I have stopped thinking of myself as oppressed, and discovered that there are those far more oppressed than I. I no longer fret over taxes and zoning laws. I fret over the lives of my fellow citizens who are treated differently for the color of their skin. I fret over Roland, and his brothers and sisters. I fret over my children.

Some of you may be tempted to argue with me. I probably will not reply. Not only have I heard it all, I was once like you – I've thought it all, and I've written it all myself. I just needed to take this one chance to tell you what's at stake.

Thanks for reading,

With Love, 



  1. Bravo Luna. As a former White police officer I can attest to the veracity and accuracy of what you're saying. Rest assured, there is at least one white cop who can hear your words.