During the final 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life, as a Minneapolis police officer’s knee dug into his neck fatally restricting airflow, George Floyd used some of his precious final breaths to call out for his mother. His mother had, perhaps mercifully, passed two years previously; she didn’t have to grieve a son taken too soon by a racist police institution that considers Black men threatening enough that their mere presence elicits escalation and violence. Still, he called out for his “momma” and reminded us all of the special bonds many of us share with our mothers, our first and sometimes final protectors.
On Sunday, another Black son was taken far too soon from his mother. Just miles from where George Floyd’s murderer stands trial and in the midst of a community being retraumatized by the daily rehashing of that horrific day, a Brooklyn Center, MN, police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Like so many of us would, Daunte called his mother after his initial conversation with the police officers who pulled him over, seeking the guidance that we all crave from our most trusted advisors during stressful moments. Moments later, Daunte’s mother, Katie Wright, learned of her son’s brutal murder via FaceTime. Katie was the first to identify him as the young victim, sharing a beautiful photo of Daunte and his own one-year-old and saying, “I just want my baby home.”
Katie Wright’s anguish and anger are unimaginable to many of us. But country-wide, Black children and teens are four times more likely to be killed with a gun than their white peers. Black children are also far more likely to live in over-policed communities and attend over-policed schools; neither of these facts ensures them bodily or mental safety. Instead of protecting Black children and teens, we criminalize their behavior, escalate non-threatening situations, use state institutions as weapons against them, and turn routine traffic stops (or trips to buy skittles, or games in the park) into deadly encounters. Mothers of Black children, and especially Black boys, live in fear that their children’s daily interactions will turn fatal because they live in a country unceasingly driven by racism and white supremacy.
This week is Black Maternal Health Week, a moment founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance to organize action around the fact that Black women in the US are at least three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. And this week, as we heed a call to action on behalf of Black mamas, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Black children continue to be disproportionately in harm’s way long after they’re born. As physician and advocate Dr. Jamila Perritt said on Twitter, police violence is a #birthjustice issue when it means that Black children are under the constant threat of state-sanctioned violence.
Mother of the movement Ella Josephine Baker said, “until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son—we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” This week, in honor of Black mamas and of Black sons, we’re standing with those protesting this latest example of police violence and calling on lawmakers at all levels of government to enact policies that abolish systems of racism and white supremacy that consistently, tragically tear Black children away from their mothers. We cannot rest until that happens.