by Kitzia Esteva-Martinez
I am riding my bike home from visiting a friend and lightly grocery shopping in my neighborhood of San Antonio Park, Oakland. My bike chain falls off so I stop to fix it, as usual, and slowly ride up the hill. There are only five blocks left to go. Three young men, wearing hoodies, walk toward me. It is dark, after 6 P.M., but I can still see them in the distance. It doesn’t occur to me to be afraid. I am grateful for their presence, as the neighborhood often feels lonely after sun down. They come at me fast, stop me in the middle of the street, put a gun in my face, and make me give them my things. Moving the gun to my stomach, they search for more things to take. Then, they run away. I don’t resist, so it happens quickly, 1, maybe 1.5, minutes. It feels like an eternity.
I can still see it, like a film, rolling millisecond by millisecond. They are so young, so beautiful. The one in front of me, pointing the gun at my face, looks like a deer, not in headlights, but free and majestic. When he first pulls out the gun, I feel rage and reach for my bike lock, ready to blow back. But, then, I get that deja vu feeling, like we’ve met before, like he could be one of the youth I recruited to join the Bus Riders Union on the buses of L.A., who would get in trouble for selling weed at school, who wanted to join the marines because there were no better opportunities for him. I let go of the bike lock and put it safely back in my basket. With everything happening so fast, they probably didn’t even notice my grabbing it. I am more disarmed by their youth than the gun. I am terrified that as they expose themselves by mugging me in the middle of the cop-ridden streets of my neighborhood, they too could be targeted by state violence.
When I tell people what had happened, I hear myself choosing words carefully, selectively. I focus, just as much, on my compassion and heartbreak as my resilient rage because people tend to side with the victim and talk about punishment without really thinking of the root causes of the crime, without thinking of the humanity and the conditions of the so-called criminal. When I get home, my roommate and ex-partner, a white, cis-dude organizer who identifies as anti-racist, advises me not to call the police, not to engage the prison industrial complex. He tries to make space for me but I feel layers and layers of alienation overwhelming me. I don’t know what to do. I let rage take over and text my stolen phone; they text back mockingly. Given that the mugging happened so close to my home, I fear they might know where I live, I fear for my safety. I cave in to the hegemonic assumption that the police will keep me safe and call to report my stolen property. Eventually, after crying and taking a shower, I call it a day and fall asleep.
The police come knocking at 3 A.M., reawakening me to the nightmare and forcing me to relive the trauma as I tell it to them. I am asked to describe the youth. What race where they? Black. How old where they, approximately? 14 to 16. How dark was their skin? Were they wearing baggy clothes? Did they have an afro? As I answer the questions, I feel sick to my stomach for having to tell the police the details of the race and color of already criminalized youth. I feel alienation from these black and brown OPD officers, from those youth, from myself. I don’t tell the police, as I don’t tell most of my friends, that they called me “Mexican bitch” and taunted me because, at some level, omitting those words makes me feel like I can let them go without internalize them. However, my silence coupled with their deafening words and the threat of violence coupled with youth and poverty are weighty contradictions too heavy for my arms or back to carry.
When my aunt found out I had been mugged, she called me and told me to think about moving back to San Francisco. Despite participating in a Black and Brown unity organization for many years, she is convinced Black folks will continue to “target us.” “They like to target the Day Laborers as they come home with their cash in their pockets from work,” she tells me. I have heard, a lot of times actually, by other members of my community, of desperate Black folks targeting immigrants, particularly Latinos, because we are more likely to carry cash than credit. But it goes both ways. I’ve been robbed on BART by a Latino guy, I’ve witnessed other Latinos mugging people of color. The fear and animosities between black and brown folks are dangerous, and they help justify the violence of the state and other hateful white groups towards us. At the end of the day, it helps white supremacy. When we see each other as enemies, when we start to accept that our people should be put in cages instead of pushing for real solutions to the poverty and economic, social and state violence we experience we help white supremacy. When I told my neighbor Michael, a black man in his 50’s, what had happened, he told me that he bought a gun because his house was robbed a few years ago. He said, “Tell me if you see them, I’ll shoot them on the spot.” I reply that I don’t want anyone dead. This issue of broke on broke crime is complicated and yet simple. When and where did we learn to see each other as vulnerable and targetable? What have we internalized that we experience each other as hurtable and disposable?
I know the roots of the issue, and I keep them in mind for perspective during the process of decompressing and trying to heal from the trauma. Understanding the systemic reasons for the poverty I was confronted with in my own neighborhood is part of my own fighting-back arsenal, but there is a level of healing that has to happen at a more intimate level. The itchy feeling under my skin that tells me I was targeted because I am a small Latina, that my perceived appearance makes me an easy exploit in their eyes, the nasty feeling of my muscles tightening every time I ride my bike and see three or more black men or youth walking down the block. These feelings bury me deeper in layers of isolation at how easily my body clenches as it takes on the narrative of “Black danger.” But this danger is momentarily true in my body as I recover from trauma. Is this reaction a coping mechanism?
In the world we must build, justice would not mean targeting their black bodies with state violence, but an intimate healing of our communities’ beef with each other, a conflict that ultimately comes from white supremacy and patriarchy. Justice would be a world where boys of color don’t have to mug me to survive, to be men. This work is more nuanced than calling the police, than calling for harsher sentences, than banning weapons. What is needed to heal the alienation between our communities, the isolation from each other, looks like economic justice that we fight for in solidarity and unity. It also looks like intimate justice. Healing the traces and legacies of sexism, colorism, homophobia, anti-black racism, and xenophobia as they manifest in violently intimate and intimately violent ways. Black lives matter, brown lives matter. We must all see this together. We must all do this work together.
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