By: Ariana Brazier, Scalawag
Illustrations by: Jay Jones
Content warning: This letter mentions state-sanctioned murder.
I’ve been mentally and emotionally exhausted these last few weeks for some familiar and new reasons that I can only explain by addressing you directly.
A few weeks ago, I took you across the street to the vacant baseball field to play soccer. When I kicked the ball in one direction, you would grin at me mischievously and wait for me to take off sprinting behind the ball before you mimicked me. We raced to the ball before taking turns on the next kick. You cracked me up because as you would run behind the ball, you were careful to avoid the taller weed patches in this field overgrown by weeds and overrun with ant beds. I was so proud of us for making this time for each other and so grateful for the struggle that led us to our little East Point home.
But the moment could not exist in this blissful bubble as it became apparent to me how quickly this and future moments could be snatched from us. As we were playing, I noticed an East Point police car with two officers drive past and take an extended pause at the stop sign just outside the field’s gates, directly in front of our home. Annoyed and on alert, I invited you to keep playing with me. When the car circled the block, I became anxious. And when the cop car circled a third time, I fearfully picked you up, gathered our items and walked home. I closed the blinds, locked the doors, set the alarm, and began our daily bedtime routine with all the generational paranoia of a Black mother raising her Black son in a militarized police state.
The fears and questions continue to proliferate as I scroll through Twitter and note another Black person harassed or murdered by police (Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Bothom Jean, Janisha Fonville, Michelle Cusseaux, in addition to the growing number of Georgians fatally shot by police—more than a third of whom the state killed in their own home).
There is no material defense against or legal recourse for these attacks. As I rock you to sleep and tuck you in each night, I wonder with heavy guilt if you should be sleeping with me in my bed. I imagine my body as a defense between you and them. I wonder if they would notice the fullness of our lives if they barged in through the living room—the Little Tykes basketball hoop, the tiny trampoline, the miniature kitchen set, the dining table caked with yogurt and cluttered with documents. I wonder if I’ve paid all my bills, filed all my paperwork, updated my registration. I wonder if I unintentionally pissed off any more cops today (the week following our park date I informed a police officer that we do not speak to cops, and he began yelling at me about his humanity). I think of anything else that might increase the distance between you and the police.
I ruminate on the police murder of Korryn Gaines. A 23-year-old mother of two young children who was murdered in front of her 5-year-old son in a police shootout at her home. The reason for the intrusion: a warrant and failure to appear in court on charges related to a traffic stop. The knowledge that this could be me—us—never leaves me, especially now as I obsessively follow minute by minute updates on #StopCopCity efforts. Our little home, that vacant field, and our favorite playgrounds are all located in the most heavily surveilled city in the country, Atlanta, Georgia. Our private moments of joy, like that day on the field, are encircled by police officers, cameras, and technology.
Acknowledging all of this continually forces me to contend with the limitations to types of safety I can physically provide you, specifically as the sole individual charged with protecting your wellbeing. With this said, commiting to the work of abolition as a process and outcome, even more, the endeavor to integrate abolition as a premiere ethic of our daily living, is the only means of guaranteeing safety for you—for all of us. To achieve abolition we must revise and co-construct a definition of safety. In doing so, we must access and foreground collective health, wellness, and imagination through ongoing mutual aid: collective problem solving that humanizes the process of change.
You, at only 23 months, are an integral participant in this work. We are building a grassroots network of relationships replete with resources, skills, and language. You should never have to call the police. You should never even feel the urge to consider the police because there are at least five other people you can call to meet your needs responsibly with care and recognition.
Remix, as a child, your only obligation to this work is to take up space shamelessly through the Black joy and play inherent to your body and spirit. Through play, centered within and informed by your kinship network, you are learning and practicing self-definition. Play is teaching you mutual aid—how to meet someone’s needs as well as allowing others to meet yours, how to resource your community, struggle collectively, build and exchange power, and co-construct safety. We can look to your recent playground experiences as quintessential examples:
During one recent visit, you allowed another toddler to walk you across the shaky bridge you feared. Once across, you two became partners—she assisted you with ascending the rock climbing wall and chain-link ladder. She insisted that she be your support and you responded graciously.
On another occasion, you wanted to play with the big kids. In this climbable, spinning spherical orb on the playground were younger kids and pushing the orb were bigger kids, but nestled within the center, holding tightly to the pole, were the toddlers. Everyone had a protective role and played their part to generate a collective Black joy.
In and through your play, you are linking Blackness to safety. Your work is as much a threat to Cop City and militarized police efforts as the adults crowding the streets and raising their voices in city council meetings to #StopCopCity and prioritize and invest in an authentic form of safety that rests in the people. Cop City can never be built. It is a prevalent threat to our individual and collective livelihoods. The #StopCopCity efforts are teaching us how to lean into and grow the fullness of our lives; how we proliferate solutions and resources.
These are collective efforts. These are your people. Remembering this and reflecting on the lessons in your joyous play are how I catch my breath each night.
I love you, and I thank you, in and across every universe.
Ariana Denise Brazier, Ph.D., is a Black queer feminist and smiley sad mom-girl. She is a play-driven community organizer and educator who is motivated to raise a joyous, free Black child. Ari received her doctoral degree in English, Critical & Cultural Studies from the University of Pittsburgh in April 2021. She now resides in Atlanta, GA. Ari has been described by the people she loves as southern, explosive, abstract, intricate, and awkward.
Scalawag is a journalism and storytelling organization that works in solidarity with oppressed communities in the South to disrupt and shift the narratives that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few. Read more stories from Atlanta organizers featured in Scalawag’s A Week of Writing: Stop Cop City.
Contribute to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to support the legal defense of Forest Defenders facing domestic terrorism charges, and learn more about the ongoing fight to #StopCopCity and defend the Atlanta forest.