In 2009, my family lived just a block from Bert’s Red Apple. My friends and I were nerdy, goody-two-shoes 17-year-olds, but a few times that summer, in the dead of night, we would sneak down to the lake and go for a midnight dip in the moonlight. I didn’t worry that a concerned neighbor would call the cops on us. And even if they did, I never worried if I’d survive the encounter. As a white kid in Madison Park, that felt like a given.
On Friday, June 12, my family attended a march led by young Black people who told different stories about this place. They talked about feeling unwelcome. Being looked up and down by white neighbors. Deliberately wearing bright colors to seem “unintimidating.”
This place that let me feel wild, safe and free, made them feel wary, scared and watched.
Over the last decade we’ve seen videos that have made our stomachs turn. Videos of Black people being harassed, brutalized and murdered by the police. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve said to yourself, “That’s horrible.” And then you’ve moved on. Because you’ve asked yourself, “What can I do about this?” Maybe you’ve even thought, “This isn’t my problem to solve.”
But the organizers of this march came here to tell us it is precisely our problem to solve. Us, the white people who are “horrified.” We are the people who benefit from racism and white supremacy, and so it’s our job to fight to dismantle it — in our thoughts, words, politics and actions. And, I’m not going to lie, it’s a big job. But for now, I’m going to focus on two things that I know this neighborhood can commit to doing today:
• Never call the cops on a Black person ever again
Unless you are witnessing a violent crime that puts people’s life at risk, like assault or drunk driving, you don’t need to call the cops. Do a Google search for “what to do instead of calling the police,” and you’ll find clear and practical alternatives. For example, you can host a workshop on de-escalation tactics so your neighborhood is prepared to handle scary moments in a peaceful way. Or, if you really feel you have to report a crime, go to the police station yourself rather than bringing cops into your neighborhood. Familiarize yourself with these ideas and discuss proactive steps with your family and neighbors so you can stay safe without calling upon a militaristic, notoriously racist police force.
And while we’re at it, never post on Nextdoor that a “suspicious, young male” is wandering around, because we all know what you mean by that.
• Use your money, status, power and platform to build up Black communities
Living in Madison Park means living next door to a massive gentrification battleground. The Central District has been a cultural Mecca for Black art, music and food but is now becoming a homogenous zone of town homes and condos for tech workers. You know this as well as I do. You may even shake your head every time you drive by 23rd and Union, pointing out to whoever is in your car, “Wow, this corner has changed so much.” But we can actually do something about this. We can use our immense collective power to build up our neighboring Black communities.
We can support Black-owned businesses in our own neighborhoods and give our money to organizations like King County Equity Now and the Africatown Land Trust who are committed to political and economic justice for these communities. We can make racial diversity a priority in our workplaces by hiring Black candidates for positions of leadership in our companies and listening to their perspectives. We can fundraise for politicians who are truly committed to dismantling white supremacy here in our own city and state. We can come together as neighbors and friends to multiply our efforts and make a real impact.
The organizers of the recent march chose to come to your neighborhood because you have economic, political and social power. So do I. And it’s time we use that power to forge a change in this community. Because as long as white teenagers are allowed to go swimming at midnight at our beaches, but Black teenagers are scared to walk down our streets in broad daylight, we have work to do.