The protest starts at noon. Anyone committed to real change, who truly wants equal treatment of all people, no matter their race, will be there.
“You know the mayor’s implemented a curfew,” Jordan says. “Everyone’s gotta be back home by sundown.”
“Protest’s at noon. Plenty of time,” I say, looking out the window. I check the time on my phone. Nine fifteen. But the sun has yet to make an appearance.
“You know these things get violent.”
“They only get violent because incompetent leadership completely miss the entire point. They respond to the protests against police brutality with more police brutality.”
“All the more for you to stay at home.”
“Did Reggie Thomas have that option?”
Reggie Thomas, the latest Twitter hashtag. Gunned down in front of his home at the corner of Maple and Floral Steet. He looked suspicious, was their excuse. Recent string of burglaries in the neighborhood, and he was running out of the house wearing a mask.
Everyone is wearing a mask. It’s COVID. But that was probable cause enough to shoot him seven times. If he was truly a burglar, wouldn’t he have been running away from the cops instead of toward them? But they didn’t bother to question their assumptions, didn’t ask why he was running, because the policy for Black men is always to shoot first. Neutralize the presumed threat.
If they had asked, they would’ve known he was a frontline worker. For the last two weeks he’d been home caring for his grandmother, recently diagnosed, because he didn’t want to take the chance of hospital triage skipping over her because there weren’t enough ICU beds and she had too low a chance of survival, even if put on a ventilator.
If they had simply asked, they would have known that her lips had just turned blue, that her heavy breathing had just gone silent. He saw the squad car in the window and ran out to get help, hoping that maybe they could get a ride to the hospital without having to call the ambulance and avoid the insanely high bill for a drive just two miles up the road.
Instead, he was met with three bullets to the chest. One to the shoulder. Two to the face. One to the groin. They cocked their guns and fired without even saying a word.
Two lives were lost that day, when they should have been saved.
“Okay, Mary Sue, social justice warrior.”
“Don’t mock me.”
“I’m not mocking. I’m being practical. People don’t like being shown their own biases.”
“Well, they should. It’s the only way things will get better.” I close the curtain and return to making my picket sign.
Ten to twelve, and we’re on our way to Maple and Floral, where the protest is set to begin. It will start with a memorial by the signpost in his grandmother’s yard. Then we’ll make our march to City Hall, where the entire police department is sure to be waiting in tactical gear, along with the National Guard.
I look out the window toward the sky, which has gotten even darker since earlier this morning. It looks like one giant all-encompassing cloud. No break of sunlight. No peak of blue.
“Is it supposed to rain?” I ask.
Jordan drums his fingers on the steering will. “I don’t think so.”
“Why is it so dark?”
“Maybe it’s a sign.”
“You won’t talk me out of this.”
He gives me a side-eye and smirks. “I know. But the second niggas start burning down buildings, we’re out. Your safety is more important to me.”
Ever the protector. I can’t help but adore him, even if our political ideologies don’t always align.
Crowds are starting to gather when we arrive. Jordan parks in an empty lot behind a church a few blocks down, and we walk the rest of the way. I hold my sign above my head. Blank brown faces encircle the words:
Jordan points. “I actually like this one. It’s not so cliche.” Ahead of us, hovering over the wave of bodies, are signs that say, “No justice, no peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Defund the police,” “White silence = White consent.”
“See?” He chuckles.
“The message is more important.”
At the top of the hour, the voice of the protest’s organizer comes on the megaphone to open the day’s events with a prayer for Reggie Thomas and his family, for the state of our city and the country as a whole, for wisdom in leadership, for peace that surpasses all understanding. She’s shaky at first. We all feel the same uneasiness. The sky is Black now. Black like midnight. The automatic streetlights have turned on, but even they are dim. I can barely see Jordan as I reach for his hand. He squeezes mine reassuringly as we begin our march toward City Hall, deeper into the darkness.
“No justice!” the organizer calls.
“No peace!” we all respond.
We continue our chant for several miles, our feet guided by the light of our cellphones. There is no traffic. All along the route, cars are pulled over to the side of the road, though their passengers don’t seem to be interested in justice for Reggie Thomas. They remain inside. Some stand on the curb. All have worry in their eyes, but I doubt we are the cause.
“It must be an eclipse or something,” Jordan says in my ear.
“Wouldn’t it be on the news?”
“We could’ve missed it. All they’re covering are the protests these days.”
But wouldn’t an eclipse at least show a hint of sun? Wouldn’t the Blackest night at least give us a glimpse of the stars?
The megaphone grows more faint the further we march. It becomes harder to hear the lead call, even though we’re near the front of the line. We mimic what those around us say.
“Babe?” Jordan says.
Coming into view are the tall columns of City Hall. In front of it, its wall of defense. Black uniforms. Black guns and batons. Black shields. Black helmets. So much Black, we can’t distinguish their faces. For all we know, their bodies could be Black like ours.
“I don’t like this. I don’t feel good about this.” Jordan turns around, appearing to scan for an easy exit, but it’s hard to see anything now. And as we slow to a stop, the flashlights on our phones go out, as if they’ve drained all the battery. The dim streetlights flicker, then die. It’s Black all around now, as if a blanket has descended upon our faces. If only I could just reach out and grab it, yank it down. Eerie silence engulfs us, save for a few clicks and pops ahead.
“This is going to be a slaughter.”
The ring of the megaphone reverberates against the concrete buildings on either side of us, but then all is quiet again. We stand and wait for the next call and response. For commands from the law enforcement presence before us. For intimidation tactics in the forms of tear gas, flashbangs, rubber bullets.
We stand. And we wait.
© 2021 Nortina Simmons
We are entering the witching hour and hour four of our Twilight Zone blogging marathon. This story was brought to you by the episode “I Am the Night, Color Me Black,” with easter eggs to “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”