The small group sat in foldout chairs and talked about how they felt after the the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling — African-American men shot by police last week in separate incidents in Minnesota and Louisiana.
Some were angry. Some were tired. Some were numb to mourning.
No one at this community event hosted by One Struggle KC called the incidents surprising, shocking or new. Regardless of whether an officer-involved shooting is topping the headlines or occupying the fodder of politicians and talking heads, police brutality and racial profiling is both a constant worry and a lived reality for people of color, said many in attendance.
One Struggle KC, a grassroots advocacy organization that works to connect those fighting black oppression, hosted the forum for black people to grieve and process the deaths of Castile and Sterling. The event was held at the Mary L. Kelly Community Center where the group led conversations about grieving, as well as solutions to combat racial injustice.
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There was a collective weariness in one circle. It comes from years of watching or hearing about cell phone footage that shows people of color, most often men, killed by police, participants said. It comes from the exhaustive cycle of outrage, discussion and discord on social media and the news about how to fix the problem, without a sense of real progress. It comes from feeling that the justice system operates on hypocrisy — and the reality that black people are incarcerated or killed after interactions with police that white offenders more often walk away from.
“For me personally, it’s not just what I’m seeing on social media — it’s history,” said Jeri Persley, an organizer with One Struggle KC who moderated a discussion. “You are realizing this has happened for hundreds of years. It’s not just my weariness. It’s also the weariness of my grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, and nothing’s changed.”
One Struggle KC organizer Brittany Coleman said that the organization held the forum in response to both the Castile and Sterling shootings, where cell phone footage released on the internet seemed to suggest unwarranted deadly force. The forum aimed to be a “safe” place where black people could grieve and process the trauma of constantly seeing people of color unjustly killed, organizers said Sunday.
In that vein, organizers chose to separate white and black people for small-group discussions so that participants who might censor their own feelings in mixed company felt free to speak. The media was asked not to record or take notes on the discussions. Dozens of white allies who came to the forum participated in breakout sessions with members of Standing Up for Racial Justice, an advocacy group made up of white allies, before the groups reconvened together.
White participants said their groups had wrestled with how much learning their community needed to do when it comes to the history of racism.
“We talked about the importance of listening,” said Anna Svoboda-Stel. “We need to step back and listen to voices that aren’t always heard.”
And while the group talked about various solutions to curb systemic racism related to officer-involved shootings of African-Americans, there was a sense that a clear path forward hadn’t mobilized yet.
“I took away (from my group) that we need to be working with other organizations, with churches, with other social justice organizations to find the common thread,” Persley said. “And move forward with common goals and get to work.”