Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?

Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?

by Zerlina Maxwell

It’s been two weeks since the unnecessary and untimely killing of Renisha McBrideOn November 2, the unarmed 19-year-old who was in search for help after a car accident in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heightswas shot in the face by Theodore Wafer, whose porch she had walked onto. The parallels between Trayvon Martin’s tragic killing and McBride’s are resonating in a national psyche rife with story after story of Black men and women gunned down as if their Black bodies have little or no value. And while we don’t know what will happen to Wafer as a result of the killing (George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin, was acquitted) we know this pattern of violence must end.

Reports that have surfaced since the tragic killing note McBride was intoxicated at the time of the incident, implying that somehow she was responsible for her own death. McBride crashed into a parked car and walked a short distance to knock on Wafer’s door for help. Instead of, say,inviting her in to call 9-1-1 to report the car accident, he shot her in the face. Originally, Wafer claimed the shotgun fired accidentally, and he wasn’t arrested immediately after the shooting based on this version of events—reminiscent of the Zimmerman case.

Now that more evidence has surfaced, Wafer is claiming that he shot McBride in self-defense, even though the door to his home was locked and reports show that she was shot through this locked screen door and from a far enough distance that she didn’t pose an immediate threat. On Friday, Wafer was finally charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and instructed to turn himself into the authorities. Wafer was arraigned, with his bail set at $250,000.

Beyond these facts, it appears McBride was killed in a manner more appropriate for a rabid animal trespassing on someone’s property than a human being with a full cadre of rights. Her life, like so many others in the Black community, was ended prematurely, for inexplicable reasons that defy logic about self-defense, guns, racial discrimination, and the criminalization of Black bodies.

This narrative is all too familiar. Zimmerman made similar claims after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2011. Zimmerman claimed Martin posed a threat to his community, in part because Martin was wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman claimed that Martin—who was “armed” with Skittles and an iced tea—was a threat because he didn’t respond to being followed by a strange man, with the “yes, sir” head down humility expected by Black people being interrogated by those who believe they are somewhere they are not permitted to be. Martin’s death and the failure to immediately arrest Zimmerman caused the nation to take notice and Million Hoodie marches were organized across the country, garnering national attention. (Even Beyonce and Jay Z attended one in New York City after the verdict.)

So where is the Million Hoodie march for Renisha McBride?

While there are certainly activists organizing vigils across the country for McBride, they are noticeably smaller at this early stage in the case than the ones organized for Martin. Like Martin, McBride was gunned down inexplicably, and then labeled a threat by the shooter to justify the killing.

There is no question that Black men are under attack by a racist criminal justice system and a society that forever suspects them to be criminals. But when a young Black woman suffers the same fate as Trayvon Martin, the outrage appears to be concentrated among Black women, instead of a universal outrage with mass protests. That has got to change. Black women consistently show up for Black men, and yet the opposite is not true when Black women are the victims of injustice.

That Black bodies cannot simply exist and move about unmolested, without the threat of violence for little to no reason, links us back to the Jim Crow South, when Black bodies were labeled threatening and lynched in front of white communities. As Professor Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, “African-Americans are both the primary victims of violent crime in this country and the primary victims of the fear of that crime.” Both Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin died as an apparent reaction to this discriminatory—and common—mindset.

There must be justice for Renisha McBride, for her family, and for her community. Black America is in a constant spin cycle of pain. The reasons given to justify the deaths of Black children are steeped in America’s checkered racial history and white supremacy.

The callousness with which Martin and McBride were killed should compel a national dialogue on race, inequality, profiling, and gun safety, but as long as white Americans refuse to acknowledge that Black people are not inherently a threat, and are capable of innocence deserving justice, the pain will continue. For a nation that claims to have a foundation of freedom and liberty, these killings are evidence of a nation lost and in denial, unable to find its way until all Americans can walk up to a home seeking help after an accident, and not receive a fatal shot to the face.

This article originally appeared in RH Reality Check and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

A Review of John Rybicki’s When All the World is Old

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A Review of John Rybicki’s When All the World is Old

By Kirsten Clodfelter

John Rybicki opens each section of When All the World is Old, his third poetry collection, with excerpts from journal entries written by his late wife, the poet Julia Moulds. Her voice echoes in brief flickers so that as we move forward into Rybicki’s own language, we hear her still: “I worry again and again about him losing me.” The weight of that loss—of knowing what trauma is coming before it’s yet arrived, and then, when it finally has, of learning how to navigate a way through it—is explored with candor and power in his stunning writing. Rybicki honors Moulds by building this book not just to her or for her or about her but also, in using her voice in the pages, literally of her—ensuring that his devastation becomes ours as well, a burden that weighs us down as we read, but maybe, in the tiniest way, is also one that we can help shoulder.

My mother was 41 when she died, just a handful of years younger than Rybicki’s wife, but they prepared differently. For my sisters and I, there was no tender last love note, no post-bath, steam-written secret message, no treasure to decode across the mirror or window or anywhere, later, no matter how willing we would have been to “place our mouths close to the glass” and “fog it with our breath / after she is gone.”

Rybicki writes about the kind of day-to-day living shaped by the long-shadowed awareness that the minutes we have left are diminishing; he admits, “It has been too much for too long and we know it / is time to take hold of the lightening and let it kill her…” and it’s cruel, the way we are tasked with somehow being our best, or happiest, or most loving selves in that final interim before the goodbye—if we are lucky or unlucky enough to have that kind of warning—while at the same time facing down the very worst things we can imagine. Rybicki asks, “Why can’t I say yes to the laughter in my chest?” But of course we already know why. It’s because we understand, as Rybicki understands, that his “wife is the center of it all. Everything grows / from her.”

So Rybicki does not laugh, but he does put on his bravest face. At her request: “Keep me safe,” he “is on his watch,” is “trying to smuggle her / out of a burning city,” careful to offer his reminder gently, “…Whatever you do, / love, don’t look back,” the way we might pull a blanket over the folded body of a person in our care when we find that they’ve fallen asleep on the couch. But Rybicki cannot shelter us from the truth—even the most impressive love we are capable of giving is not always enough to keep someone from leaving, and in the pages of this book we are asked to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rybicki and look back with him as the city smolders, to bear witness to the depth of his adoration and anguish, watching for the moment when he finally feels ready to “stand in defiance / of our parting and go to war to make you live again.”

In the months after her diagnosis, I used to catch my mother sneaking cigarettes in the bathroom. Smoke would leak through the door when, after wandering through the entire house, I’d finally think to crack it open and look for her there, interrupting—in the sudden and unceremonious way that children are always doing—her meager attempt at disappearance. She would fan her hand in front of her face frantically—the worst fucking magician you’ve seen in your life—and after the pinched, “Shit, shit,” and the tell-tale flush, she’d study me slyly and say, “Don’t tell your father.” Maybe in those moments she was thinking of our history, of the innocuous secrets we already shared and also of all the ones we wouldn’t, the things that at some point she must have realized she’d now never get to know—the first time I kissed a boy, had my heart broken, screwed up a friendship, found my footing and felt sure of the way forward, fell in love. Her voice was always very serious when she’d say this, or maybe it only appeared that way because of how easy it was by then to see the bones of her face—but those words weren’t a warning, they were a plea.

At ten, I was too young to understand why I should have been outraged to find my mother layering this extra poison into her body—cigarettes on top of radiation on top of chemo on top of cancer on top of cigarettes, but then, by the time I was old enough to reason that this action was selfish or ignorant, I was too young to understand that sometimes these little rebellions are a small pleasure, an anchor. When you’re dying, there are still things that need doing. There’s milk that needs to be bought, litter in the cat box that needs changed, lunches to pack before school, math homework that needs checking. So from time to time she snuck a cigarette—one of only a few choices she could still control, a type of ownership of her body’s betrayal. Who cares?

It’s the smallest things that we gather into our pockets and carry with us as daily reminders. In “On a Piece of Paper You Were About to Burn,” Rybicki recounts his desperate missing in glimpses and asks us not to look away: “You rock on the kitchen floor hugging your own legs, / weeping and kissing a face so tiny / you could cover it with a penny.” He’s seeking an answer, “How do you hold the dead,” and we don’t know either, so we keep reading to figure it out with him.

My daughter, 20 months old, loves to stand beneath a certain picture collage in our living room and hold her hands above her head, calling, “Up, up,” so that she can be lifted to honk the nose of each subject in the photographs, proudly naming us as she points, “Momma, Dada, Bebe.” When I am the one doing the holding, she is the most interested in pictures of her father, and I offer tiny, sing-song consolations, “Daddy’s at work,” “… at the store,” “…will be home right after nap.” But I am capable of imagining, in a different circumstance, the exact way it would break me right open to hear the squeal of this question each morning as we looked at those photographs and not have a single way to explain that Dad won’t be home at 4:30 or with hugs or groceries or ever again, and to think of it always leaves me in tears, the pain of that loss—just the idea of it—fresh and immediate and real even when my partner is in the next room watching television or asleep beside me in our bed.

In a collection that easily calls to mind other aching and beautiful homages to the way we survive after loss, like Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy and Donald Hall’s Without, John Rybicki’s poems in When the World is Old force us toward these moments of consideration with urgency—a reminder, perhaps, to keep our perspective or practice gratitude for the collection of small, warm moments we are gifted to share with others, because eventually the people we love are going to leave us—and no matter when that is, no matter how long we’ve had to prepare—it’s going to be too soon.

John Rybicki, When All the World is Old, Lookout Books, 2012: $13.50 (direct)/$16.95.

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Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. Her writing has been previously published in The Iowa ReviewBrevity, and Narrative Magazine, among others. A Glimmer Train Honorable Mention and winner of the Dan Rudy Prize, her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published this October by RopeWalk Press. Clodfelter teaches in Southern Indiana, where she lives with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com, @MommaofMimo

A Coney Island of the Belly

Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit

Coney Island hot dogs with trimmings from Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit. Photo by Beau R from Yelp. Used by permission.

A Coney Island of the Belly
By John Unger Zussman

June 1968. We emerge boisterous from the prom, the night still balmy. Six of us pile into my GTO and speed toward downtown Detroit to Lafayette Coney Island. Brightly lit, open till three, the Lafayette serves unkosher hot dogs on a Wonder Bread bun, slathered in mustard, smothered in thin chili, topped with a pile of raw onions, greasy fries on the side. Heaven. These Coney dogs have little to do with Coney Island, New York, but they are a Detroit institution and we grew up with them. We cram sweaty into a booth, raising scarcely an eyebrow in rented tuxedos and spaghetti-strap gowns. The Lafayette has seen it all. No need for menus: One Up Without for me, foregoing the onions, hoping for later; One Chili Only for you. We are young, fearless, on the town.

By the eighties, Coney Islands have gone upscale, dotting the wealthy Detroit suburbs like rhinestones among sapphires. We live in California now, married all these years, but we make a point when visiting to go for Coneys. Though our tastes run now to crusted salmon and risotto, and the fries go straight to our waists, the Coneys always taste like 1968, and youth, and prom night, and eager kisses in the back seat.

October 2001. In town for my sister’s funeral, we make our customary pilgrimage, but the Coneys seem flat and empty, the flavors crass, the mustard cheap, the chili a health hazard. I can’t believe we’re still eating this crap. We’ve turned a corner, crested a hill. Next stop, geezerhood. We’ve lost sight of 1968, buried in the dark recesses of our memories and taste buds. We look ahead to senility and the early-bird special at Bouchon.

Copyright © 2010 by John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.

Why “America the Beautiful” Should Be Our National Anthem
By John Unger Zussman

No, it’s not because the “Star-Spangled Banner” (let’s call it SSB) is unsingable. The notes span about an octave and a half, which is within most people’s range. (The issue is that different people’s ranges don’t necessarily overlap.) But I digress.