Helicopters roaring overhead. Spotlights sweeping over me. Sirens. Bullhorns. Angry chanting. Drums. Fireworks. A trash can on fire. Lines of cops in riot gear. Suddenly the crowd turns and I am in the front with hundreds of people behind me. To the freeway, they shout. A guy next to me sprays the word POWER on the freeway bridge. More cops in riot gear. Helicopters flying low. People running toward the freeway ramp. Cop cars speeding through the crowd; protesters jumping out of the way.
I take a deep breath and stand back. I was on my bike when the church bell rang once, twice, six times. It rang across the dark, quiet lake, and it sounded foreboding. Now the lake is lit up by flashing lights, the sky reverberates with the sound of engines and sirens. The crowd has taken the freeway. No one is paying attention to me standing off to the side, my friend recording everything on her camera. I pass more police cars and motorcycles on my short walk home.
I can still hear the chanting and bullhorns from home. Helicopter circling low, lights sweeping over my house. Later I stand in my room and notice one sound missing, the constant hum of the freeway. A black line runs between the city lights where I think the Interstate is supposed to be. The darkness is only broken when a single chopper races across the empty highway.
I wish I could go to sleep. My body is tired but I know I won’t be able to sleep with the noise of the protests. But that’s not what I am upset about. Tonight I may worry about losing sleep, but tonight, tomorrow night, and on many other nights, people of color worry about losing their lives.
Sometimes, on nights like these, I wish I could go back to the sleep, but I am just beginning to wake up. Waking up to a system of injustice, systemic racism, my own white privilege, and the realization of how I perpetuate racism has been painful. But it isn’t near as painful as waking up to find that the killer of my child goes free, that justice doesn’t apply to me, that my country declares my life to matter less, all because I am black. Those are experiences I am privileged not to have. So the very least I can do tonight is to learn, to listen, and yes, to stay awake.