In Providence: The Protest

Black Lives Matter rally in Providence, June 5, 2020; photo credit: Small Frye Photography

She told me her friend asked her if she was scared to go to the protest.

“I told her the truth. I told her I’m scared every day. That’s the truth. Now it’s like– I don’t know if I was always scared. I know I am. There are people sitting at home scared. If you’re going to sit at home and be scared, come down here and be scared doing something important. What’s going to happen? You’re going to get more scared? My mom can’t get out of bed today, because she’s so nervous about me being here. She came out with me, because how can it be worse than laying in bed worrying about it? People want me to be scared. Now my Dad said, ‘You better be out there.’ He wanted me out here. He knows I’m scared and I know he’s scared too, but what about being brave? What about that? I want to be brave. I don’t want to– My aunt, see, she can’t be out here, because she’s sick. That’s a different thing. She made me my sign though. It’s big. I told her, ‘You want me to carry that thing around? It’s as big as me.’ She said ‘Yes, I want you to carry it, because I can’t be there, so you carry that for me.’ That’s what I’m doing. My dad’s holding it now, because I told him I have to talk to this reporter.”

I told her I’m not a reporter, but I am a writer. I ask if I can write about her. She laughs at me.

“Just make sure you tell them I look cute and I’m not sweaty or anything. I know it’s not true, but everybody else is writing lies, so you tell them I look good out here.”

In addition to her parents, who are keeping an eye on her nearby, she’s brought about eight friends from her high school, and one from another school. They make up a small number of the estimated 10,000 people who protested peacefully in Providence this past weekend organized by young people just like her.

“My dad had a gun pulled on him once. He was– He told me not to tell this story, because I think he’s embarrassed that it happened, but he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was visiting his brother and he goes out to his car to get something and this police officer is driving by and stops and gets out of the car and asks him what he’s doing in this neighborhood. My dad tells him why he’s there and the cop– Dad, come tell the story. Can I tell the story?”

Her father doesn’t want to tell me the story, but he says she can tell the story — after she negotiates with him for a few minutes and agrees to give me the abbreviated version.

“The officer kept asking for my dad’s license and he was telling him it was in the car and the officer wouldn’t let him go get it in the car so what’s he going to do? Then the cop pulls the gun on him. This was when he was my age. He told me about that, because he wanted me to know what it’s like when I started going out and driving. He didn’t even want me to drive because of that. But you can get killed anywhere. You can be– He was outside his brother’s house. He was just going to his car. You can’t even move without somebody thinking they can pull a gun on you. That’s why we’re out here now.”

I ask her dad how he feels standing out here with her and he asks me to give him a minute, because if he’s going to talk to me, he wants to get the words right. I give him my email address and tell him that I can send him what he said later on if he wants to look at it, but that it’s all anonymous anyway. It’s not a great journalistic practice, but like I said, I’m not a journalist, and I can tell he feels better when I offer to give him a little editorial power after the fact. It turns out, he didn’t need it.

“When she was growing up, this kid was fearless. It hurt me to have to put fear in her. You don’t want to put fear in your kid. You want them to take care of themselves and to do the right thing, but when you see them wanting to jump in the pool, you tell them to jump. You see them wanting to explore on their bike and see what’s out there, you want to let them do it, because that’s how they grow. It hurts to have to clip their wings and tell them they can’t do what their friends are doing, because it could get them killed. You know, no matter what I tried to tell her, she was fearless. I heard you asking her about being scared. It scares me a lot, being a dad, being her dad, but she’s not going to be scared, and I’m looking around today at all these kids who are here because they’re not going to accept that. They’re not going to accept being scared as a part of their lives. I feel like an old man standing here next to her, and I am an old man, you know, compared to her, but fear will make you old too. That’s what it does to you.”

When I ask him if he would still prefer her to be scared if it would keep her safe, he says–

“But it won’t keep you safe. That’s just it. Nothing’s going to keep you safe. Like she said. You might as well be out here with us, because you are not safe. That’s a lie they tell you. What people are seeing now is that it’s never been safe to be Black, but people who look like you thought they were safe, and you were only safe until you started asking questions and watching these videos of people being killed, and then they showed you that you’re only allowed to live the way you do because they let you. That’s why it has to change. Because you’ve never had power. You have your privilege, but you don’t have any power. So you better pick up a sign and stand on the right side. That’s my advice.”

Luckily, they came with extra signs — all made by an aunt who couldn’t attend, but was there in spirit. The young lady I was interviewing handed one to me, and told me not to write about how little she looked holding up a sign that was nearly half her size.

“I must look dumb holding this thing up, but I don’t care. I’ll do it. Nobody cares about me looking dumb. We got bigger problems.”

The truth is, she didn’t look dumb or little or sweaty.

As the sun hit the sign, and she started to yell out a chant that her friends and parents repeated, she stood there looking downright–