It’s Saturday night, May 30, 2020, and the helicopters are hovering low above my home on Buffalo’s West Side. They have been for hours. My daughters and I live a few blocks from Peace Of The City in the poorest zip code in Buffalo and rural Western New York. It’s dark outside as we watch the news covering the riots across the U.S. My oldest daughter Sage decides to head back to her apartment. Her sister Summer and I watch her safely to her car from my front porch. The air is ripe with tension. She calls a minute later: “Mom, I’m having a hard time leaving the neighborhood. I’m stuck around the corner at Grant and Auburn by 7/11. I’ve never seen so many police. They’re in riot gear and heavily armed, with military-style tanks . . .”
As a 53-year-old white woman who’s lived more than thirty-two years in poor black, brown, and refugee neighborhoods, it has felt impossible to put the plight of the black male in America into words for my white brothers and sisters. So I’ve sat with a “noiseless howl” this past week. Then, on Sunday afternoon, an online donation of $250 came into Peace Of The City from someone I haven’t talked to in a decade. In the the comments section it said, “This donation is in honor of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Breonna, and Mr. Ahmaud. With love, Andrea.”
I’m stunned, yet awakened into words. “Stories,” I say to myself. “My statement is a story. Or two or three or thousands . . .”
Here‘s just one. Garang Doar has literally grown up at POTC. He is currently on Staff through AmeriCorps working with our young people, ages 13-19. He is finishing up at college. He and his family of eight live in a second-floor apartment between my home and POTC. Last fall gunshots rang out below their windows. I heard them, but knew it wasn’t my block. Truth be told, I didn’t think much of it. I’m used to it.
The day after the shots, Garang didn’t look good at work. “What’s up, G?” I asked. The length of his pause and puffy eyes told me to sit down.
Garang’s mother works 12:00pm to 12:00am every day in a factory (yep, 12-hour shifts). Garang and his brother take turns going downstairs to find a parking spot for their mom, stand there saving it, and see her safely into their apartment. With the gunfire, Garang knew he had a “life and death black male decision“ to make. If he or his brother went downstairs to wait for their mom, the police—not even on the scene yet—would see them as a suspect. Garang knew that if he didn’t comply with the ensuing public humiliation of being questioned, frisked, placed in the squad car, and possibly handcuffed that his number might be up for a knee to the neck. Garang wouldn’t allow his father or brother to go down. He went himself.
He sat on the stoop and waited for it to happen. And. It. Did. The sirens wailed and Garang braced himself while remaining outwardly relaxed—a survival technique, as any sign of tension is read as guilt.
He was surrounded by three cops, their hands on holsters and bully sticks. Garang held his ground as the invasive questioning began. “I’m waiting for my mom to get back from work.” The police didn’t believe him. More questions. To protect his family from neighborhood retaliation, Garang refused to give his or his mother’s name. This is his legal right, but he knew what was next.
“Face the wall with your arms and legs spread.” The human rights violation called “frisking” began—all while his younger brothers watched wide eyed from the windows of their apartment above. When the police asked him again for his name, he civilly refused. With that, he was put in the back of the patrol car. This is when the situation can deteriorate very quickly—and Garang knew it. His father came down and immediately gave the family name. At the same time his mother returned. They didn’t allow Garang or his father to move as cops approached her vehicle. An officer was “on” every family member at this point.
Garang’s mother saw her beloved firstborn in the back of the police car and acquiesced to anything the cops wanted. Their stories match and Garang was released.
At any point, Garang, 22, could have been a George Floyd. Or a Freddie Gray. Or an Eric Garner. What happened in Minneapolis isn’t a fluke. It would happen each day if black and brown men like Garang didn’t know the script of their second-class citizenship, memorized in the terror that could follow if they missed a line.
Yesterday, Garang and I were discussing his possible change of majors for college. “I don’t know,” he sighed. “In the end, I just want to major in whatever would help me do the most good for the most people.”
Garang Doar—say his name.