If you have children, I hope that they never call out for you, in vain, as the police steal their lives.
It’s something that tore into my heart when I read about Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death in Toronto on May 27th. Police were called to intervene after multiple calls about her mental health distress. Her mother and other family were not permitted to enter the apartment where Regis and the Toronto Police Service were. Multiple TPS officers were present. Regis’ last words were, “Mom help, mom help, mom help.” She then plummeted from a 26th storey balcony to her death. Her family are insisting Regis did not, would not, commit suicide.
Only two days before this, George Floyd was arrested under suspicion of attempting to use a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to buy cigarettes. Police arrived on the scene and immediately pulled a weapon on Floyd and then dragged him to the ground. An officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes, a move that is not an approved form of restraint in that jurisdiction. Before he died, among Floyd’s last words were, “Momma! Momma, I’m through.”
I can’t imagine what a mother must feel, learning about the last words of her child, learning they were an outreach to her, a plea that would go unmet. Floyd’s mother had been dead for two years—she did not live to see the death of her son, or the ensuing protests surpassed only by the civil rights movement itself.
Any mother, I think, would move heaven and earth to be with her child under those circumstances.
So to the woman who drove past the Black Lives Matter protest at Huntsville Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon and vehemently shook her down-turned thumb at us, I am so grateful to know you have never felt the agony of one of your children crying out for you in their dying moments, as police officers remain forever between you.
Grassroots in the true meaning of the word, I didn’t know who’d organized the protest until I was leaving. When the OPP officer came around asking who’d put together the social media call-out, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. It was difficult to know how to feel about her presence, about OPP honking in support of our presence, when it is police abuse of power and oppressive actions that caused the uprisings all across the US and Canada. Yes, even in our small town, overreaching of authority and bad blood exists with law enforcement.
Ask any mother of a black child, an Indigenous child.
As I came to find out, the Huntsville protest was spearheaded by two local women, activists and mothers. Women who won’t have to worry that their children will be targeted because of the colour of their skin, and yet, who felt the need to do something in the face of such blatant and cruel injustice. In the hopes that other mothers will never feel the grief, the helplessness, the rage felt by the mothers of children stolen by white cops, by a racist system, by countries built on white supremacy and colonization.
It is always mothers, you’ll find, who do this work. The organizing, the healing, the defying. Mothers are not the ones breaking windows, provoking escalation, shooting rubber bullets at other mothers’ faces.
I often wonder what the world would look like if only mothers were invited to the bargaining tables, only mothers in positions of power, only mothers with their fingers on the triggers. Would there be triggers at all, anymore?
So as I sat on my little camp stool on the sidewalk, holding a sign calling for Justice For Regis and displaying the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, I was pleased that the vast majority of drivers honked, cheered, or otherwise indicated support for our presence. Local businesses, civil workers, truck drivers, and civilians, for the most part, agreed that black lives do matter.
There was an awareness that we are not out battling for black lives to matter more—as the countless comments in the local social media threads seem to be assuming. We are arguing that black lives matter at all. Because the evidence keeps pouring in that they don’t—law enforcement acts as if they don’t, the government reinforces that they don’t, the medical industry behaves as if they don’t, and even next-door neighbours seem to disagree on the value of racialized lives.
After all, if all lives matter, why wouldn’t everyone be fighting for black ones?
The only people saying that all lives don’t matter are the people stealing black ones.
There were a few people who, in driving by, very determinedly did not see us. There were many who slowed down to read our signs and drove away without honking. I hope those folks go home and read up on the hashtag and find out what this movement is about. But if you only watch the news, you’ll find a lot of people vocally upset about property and only secondarily upset about murder.
One or two people shook their heads at us. One man made a dramatic “cut!” gesture with his hand.
And yes, one woman gave us an emphatic thumbs-down without meeting any of our eyes.
I know why. I know what the TV in her living room projects. I know what her social media feeds look like. I know the content of her conversations with friends. ‘All lives matter. Violence is never the answer. They’re thugs, rioting and destroying property. They should try another way, a better way, my way. I’ve never seen the issues they’re going on about. If you didn’t want to be asphyxiated under a police officer’s knee, you shouldn’t have counterfeit money.’
I know this person. We all do. We are all exhausted by this person.
So I won’t waste my limited energy (who brings a stool to a protest?) trying to reach her. I suspect my writing isn’t her cup of tea, anyway.
I will just wish her the peace of knowing her children will not be racially profiled, will not be frightened, threatened, or harmed by police, of knowing their last words will not be beyond her hearing because their lives were taken in racist violence.
I want all mothers to know that peace. That’s what we’re fighting for.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.