Dear Vecino, #ICantBreathe

Listen to the replay of the show on

We're all lions.
by Bobbi Jo Chavarria

For the Goddess and her tribe
December 9, 2014

when I first saw the video
it was like
that's not how I remember it at all
but it is how it must have been

and there's a moment
when you can see my boots
firmly and deliberately step in front of the car
and watching that for the first time,
I thought a lot of things,
I thought -- "That was bold, stupid, weird."
"Why did I do that?"

And if someone who doesn't like me
Or doesn't like what I do
Or who I am
Or how I look or what I say,
If they saw that they would think,
"What an asshole for stepping in front of that car
when he clearly wanted to get by"
They would say (and they have)
that I "deserved to get hit"

But the WHOLE THING wasn't how I remembered it
because I was there, I had a sign

I yelled the chants

and when I look at all the pictures
(oh, the great pictures)
I'm in one
and it's from behind
with the kids in front of me
as if I was on the outside

And I was - almost.

I couldn't figure it out at the time,
but I just went with it
because it made sense to let the kids speak
it made sense to circle around
and watch
just make sure...
I didn't know what...
but make sure something.

And, I keep calling them kids
because when I walked into their space
groovy and raw and real
and I saw the ones at the front
the leaders you would say,
(but be clear, they wouldn't say)
I was struck that they were so young.
They could have been my children.

And I was so proud of them
humbled by their reverence
and solemn respect
as they wrote names on the sidewalk
and lit candles at Martin's feet
awestruck by their understanding
from whose footsteps they move forward
and I was delighted to follow them
as they marched towards
Ghandi's place on Main Street

And then they stopped in the crosswalk
And they wouldn't leave

"Protect and serve, that's a lie,
You don't care when black kids die."

"They think it's a joke, they think it's a game.
It isn't a joke, it isn't a game."

"What do we want? Justice!
When do we want it? Yesterday!"

There was a moment where I joined in
with my hands up
chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot.
Hands up, don't shoot"
And I could only join along
for a minute
because I was overwhelmed
with the thought
that there is a now
that exists
that would mean my sons 

only five and two are less than a decade away 

from maybe saying those words
with their arms raised

And, I had to drop my arms

and turn to the kids
and listen for a different future

So I did my part how I could
and when I remember what I did
there, that night,
and who I talked with
and how I now know what it's like to feel the hood of a car under my body,
and not in an 80s rock video kind of way,
because it was moving,
and because I am not one of those women

I know now what I was doing

When food is scarce
and there's young lion cubs that need to eat
and there's a precious meal providing sustenance
the female lions will form a circle around those cubs
and watch for something
they will protect the food
and the cubs
from the male lions
or other predators
who are just as hungry
they circle and make sure the cubs have eaten first

the duties depends upon this

when justice is scarce
and young goddesses are angry and they need to speak
because they can't breathe
and there's a precious opportunity with lights and an audience of holiday revelers and even peace officers, stopping to listen,
well that's giving them sustaining hope
So as that happened,
I watched for something
watching those on the outside
some who were just as angry
to make sure the peaceful spoke first about the now

and the future

I wasn't looking for a fight
but I know now
that was why

I started talking to the man and his camera phone
from behind which he'd been shouting
angry, rhetorical questions
to everyone and no one and boldly filming
like he had a camera and he was going to use it
So I stepped in front of him
and I answered his question
and his next one
and his next one
until there was space to ask one of my own
and he nodded
and eventually he and his angry wife behind him
weren't so angry and they walked away
and he recorded it all so it would be good to hear what the fuck I said, because I don't remember

I wasn't looking for a fight
but I know now
that was why

When I saw a 6 foot plus behemoth
put his hands on someone
I shouted, "Hey, no hands" or "Hands off"
or something similar to the "Hands to yourself"
that I have to tell my five-year old
who can't contain the energy he has sometimes
and who could accidently or on purpose
hurt his little brother, who is only two
And when, the giant pushed someone else
looked my way and said, "what are you going to do?"
because he had hands and he was going to use them
I stepped in front of him
and said, "no hands"
and he swung at my arm,
knocked the sign out of my hands
and said, "what are you going to do?"
I asked, "Really, you're going to push
daughters, and mothers, and sisters?"
and I turned to the crowd watching,
and said, "Really, you're just going to watch as he does this?"
And, I hope someone has this on video
because I don't know or remember how it ended
except it felt like suddenly
he was gone and someone was handing me my sign
picked up from the floor

the one that read, "Attention: No One is Safe"

and I wasn't looking to get hit by a car
but when I heard the engine rev
and saw it lurch forward and someone screamed
and he revved the engine again
tires squealing
because he had a BMW and he was going to use it
And I saw the frantic woman at his side
screaming, Stop! Don't do this.
because he was heading into the kids
angry that these kids weren't listening
to his horn
to his engine
to him
so angry at them
for taking all the words
and he revved his car again

looking straight ahead

And even though I was right in front of his car

he sped off
running over my toes in the process
And, that's the video I got to see
where I did something stupid and useless
like when you have to stop short in the car
and you put your hand over to hold someone back
like your arm is going to somehow help
I stepped in front of the car
because I would have done the same
if my two boys were in that crosswalk

and the truth is, they were
the kids were in the crosswalk

But what happened after
was beautiful
after no one was seriously hurt
and the only destructive anger left was in the skid marks that BMW left behind
what happened was that the kids won
they won
and were heard
the street was shut down
they started to chant
lying on the ground
"I can't breathe. I can't breathe."
And a complete circle formed around them

Not just me

but a community of people, a circle

and two girls asked, can we join?
and I said, of course
and probably other kids joined in too.
And I recorded that video
of the circle and of the kids

So, now when I watch that first video
I remember that love is the opposite of fear
and my deliberate step in front
of those headlights
looks fearless

but really it just means that I was love-full

and when I remember watching those kids
that night
"whose souls dwell in the house of tomorrow"
and who are building it for themselves
and for my sons

and I remember
Watching the peace officers
inevitably tasked to keep the peace
that night

In the moment, I remember
and I can hear my sons breathe, forever.

On Children
Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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