“GO HOME AND GET A JOB!”
I hear this constantly from angry bystanders yell as I protest peacefully in support of justice for Mike Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old killed this summer by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. This is one of the few responses that angers me because before all this happened, I was employed.
As a U.S. citizen, I have the right to peacefully assemble, freedom of speech…so why is there an assumption that because we are fighting the system that we are all unemployed? That this protest has somehow became an excuse for us not to work?
Throughout most of my 20s, I have been very independent. I have a hard time asking my parents for money, so if it isn't an emergency, I simply won't. I never had a hard time finding a job and working my butt off to have the luxuries I want. I own my vehicle, rent the apartment that I share with my Daisy, a 4 year-old chihuahua-terrier mix, and maintain a nice, fashionable wardrobe. I take good care of myself and I handle my responsibilities well.
For the first few weeks of protests, all I wore were t-shirts and basketball shorts because I wasn’t always able to get home. Protesting took a lot of my time and energy not only physically and emotionally but mentally. I was showing up to my job, but I couldn’t focus because I had so many thoughts going through my head. I was shaken by the fact that I had live artillery aimed at me. I was harassed by police. I was tear gassed. I sat at my desk one day and said to myself "I was tear gassed, this is REAL!" I’m risking my life with so many others for what we hope to be justice for all in the wake of the vicious killing of a young man who didn't deserve to die.
Before I knew it, I was having a conversation with two supervisors, a lead and my manager about the status of my employment.
The conversations I had with my parents, who have been divorced since 2005, have been nothing but supportive. Yet, they both told me to stop and think about the consequences of my decision to keep protesting. I thought about my maternal grandfather in Texas; he’s ninety-two and has been experiencing many health issues. I haven't been able to see him in the past few months. I thought of my little sister, who’s less than two years younger than me and calls me everyday, asking how the protesting is going, with great concern in her voice. I thought about how many friends I miss hanging out with and how many arguments I’ve gotten into about not being able to set time aside for the people I care about.
I think about how I may not have those luxuries at all if my life is chopped down like that of Mike Brown, Vonderrit Myers, Earl Murray, Eric Grant, Jordan Davis, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Carnell Moore and so many countless others. I’m fighting so that Black victims of police violence are seen as humans, not animals. I’m fighting so that we are no longer seen as the reason for our own death by someone else’s gun.
I am fighting so that we have the luxury of simply living.
HOW WILL I PAY MY BILLS?! Is this worth possibly losing everything I have, being put out on the street… basically leaving my responsibilities behind? All of that is for naught so long as I don't have the basic rights I am entitled to as an American citizen. I do have a job, and that is to see to it that people of color have the same rights that are afforded to White people. THAT IS MY JOB!
Larry Fellows III, is a St. Louis native and community organizer/activist. Follow him on Twitter: @geeknstereo