by: Nan Little Kirkpatrick, Executive Director
Last night I stood on the Continental Street Foot Bridge, across the Trinity river from the Dallas city skyline. I stood in a circle with black, brown, and white people, our heads bowed in prayer. Some were holding signs that said, "Black Lives Matter." Some were wearing Take Root shirts and tote bags, because gatherings like this are part of our reproductive justice praxis. Once the prayer was over, the space was held for black and brown people who've experienced police brutality, and, of course, there were stories. A black woman shared about physical injuries she'd sustained during an incident with aggressive Dallas police last year. A black man shared a story about a resisting arrest charge that was the result of police harassment, and he spoke about how this charge has followed him and impeded his ability to experience that American dream of upward mobility.
On Thursday our city was shaken by a shooting. Normally I would be at marches like the one that took place in downtown Dallas that night in support of black lives, showing up because I believe that we do, in fact, live in a racist system where black and brown people are oppressed by police brutality, mass incarceration, economic injustice, and a general lack of safety in which to raise their families. Thursday night, however, I had a headache, and I was following the news of the shooting from home, watching my social media and tagging people in messages to make sure all of my people were safe. The moment I knew that everyone I could think of who was downtown was safe, I texted a friend: "I am already nauseated at the thought of all the people who will use this against Black Lives Matter."
Five Dallas police are dead, and there is no celebration in that. But this doesn't absolve the system of hundreds of years of oppression. I am not saying that I do not care about the deaths of police officers. However, mourning their deaths doesn't stand in opposition of mourning the deaths of hundreds of black and brown people at the hands of Dallas police officers and police departments across the country. I saw video shot by friends moments before the gunfire rang out in Dallas on Thursday; protesters were walking down the street, some with their hands in the air, chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot!" Then, suddenly, everyone was screaming and scattering, looking frantically in confusion for a place to find safety. And what was lost in those moments was not just the lives of Dallas police; we lost the moments of reconciliation and solidarity between everyone who had just been linked, arm-in-arm, in the streets of Dallas, showing up for black lives.
It is entirely possible that by showing support for protesters in this moment I am opening myself up to the criticism that I don't support police. This thinking is exactly the problem. We cannot turn this into an either/or proposition, as if the protesters are the reason that those five officers are dead. I woke up in Dallas on Friday morning as committed as ever to the struggle for racial justice. How could I not? In the two years I've been with the Texas Equal Access Fund, I've gained an even greater understanding of all the ways in which racism is operating within the systems that control our everyday lives. Just last week I wrote a piece about what's next in the fight for abortion access advocates in Texas in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, and I came across this map. You can click around the map to get a sense of the racial makeup and median household income of various neighborhoods, and it's a great visual representation of what we know: Dallas is highly segregated, and the economic wealth is centered in majority white neighborhoods in the northern sector. There's a neighborhood in the southern sector that is 98% people of color with a median income of $15,659. What does this have to do with Dallas police, Thursday's events, and police brutality against black and brown people? My point is that these things are all symptoms of a single problem: hundreds of years of white supremacy in America.
TEA Fund is headquartered in Dallas; we serve people from Dallas who want an abortion and cannot afford it. We are working for a world in which people in North Texas have support for the full range of reproductive options, including to raise wanted children to live full lives. This means we have to work to end systemic racism in our communities. Seventy percent of the people we fund are people of color, and our work sits right at the intersection of race, class, and gender. We have built relationships with community partners like The Afiya Center, a black woman-led reproductive justice organization in Dallas, precisely because we see the fight for racial justice as our fight, too. We cannot say we support communities of color have access to a full range of reproductive options if we don't support safety within those communities.
And on a personal level, I was born and raised in Dallas. On Thursday night Dallas became one more city at the center of a national fight about race and policing in the United States. I wish I could say it's a national conversation rather than a fight, but we're just not there yet. While we as a city mourn the loss of life on Thursday night, we should not turn our backs on black lives and the struggle for racial justice.
Image credit: Repeal Hyde Art Project