When it has already happened, it feels inevitable. A girl appearing late one night, quiet from trauma, the crossed arms and loud voices of police breaking the relative calm of the early morning ER. After the shift, ordering breakfast at the deli counter, a man showing me a newspaper with a grainy photo of a man struggling to breathe against a cop’s knee – we both stare and shake our heads.
And then every moment after cascading out of these. Linked arms and hoarse voices, scraped knees and torn clothes, spray paint and smoke rising and broken arms and concussions. Endless walking and sleepless nights with bleary-eyed new friends and shaking strangers. Each moment feels pulled from the last until the story writes itself – how could it have happened any other way?
As the long hot summer stretches towards fall, the looming uncertainty of an election some believe in, a moment of pause. When the smoke here is less thick, and the arrest vans only half-heartedly stalk after each of our marches, we collect ourselves and each other trying to build something that can outlast a government’s resources with centuries of practice in repression.
Why are you here? I’m here because a cop left the cuffs on a person who was having a seizure in the hospital stretcher. Because a cop punched a woman over and over again in our emergency department, and when we tried to speak out, we were silenced. Because every dialysis run, every wheeze and gasp, and clenched hand over a struggling heart feels preventable. Because the scarcity that caused them was manufactured. Because my phone autocorrects words like “then” to “COVID,” and so many hospitals have empty seats they will never fill. Because the time between “your mother has died” and “we’re admitting you to the hospital” was minutes, and because we had nowhere to put the bodies. And after all of this, the denial kept coming; we could erase 170,000 people if they were mostly Black and Brown. But each cough, each breath, each bullet, each grimace, it was all real, all so haltingly, horrifying real.
I did not need to see a video to know what it looked like when George Floyd died. Every death, every cry of grief and anguish, has already written itself across my bones and carved itself into the skin of my friends. That would be enough if they weren’t preventable. That fact of their preventability is what breaks us, what tears at our friendships and families, what rouses us from sleep with nightmares, and what drives me, that first day, into the streets. For one girl, who needed a blanket, and a quiet space to sleep, and got cops with guns instead.
What happened when the smoke rose and the glass cracked and a million people gasped for air? In these months drenched with grief, I will not stand here and mourn a world that could have been. We are making a new one. We are building it, moment by moment, from the scraps and burnt remnants of our violent pasts. Whatever it takes, it will be worth it.
Marie DeLuca is an emergency physician and can be reached on Twitter @mdtetra.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com