This essay is published by The American Prospect in partnership with The OpEd Project's Public Voices Fellowship. It is part of a package of commentary pieces centered on Mother's Day 2015.
When Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914, it was designed to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children. Though the commercialization of the holiday is undeniable decades later, it remains a day where many of us celebrate and thank the women that birthed and or nurtured and raised us.
But this Mother’s Day feels different. Ominous. Heavy with sorrow. It seems wrong to celebrate when so many mothers are in pain. For example, though 300 women and girls were recently rescued from Boko Haram, the mothers of the still missing Chibok girls remain in agony over a year later. How many of those girls remain alive? How many have now had motherhood violently thrust upon them?
Mothers in the United States are also suffering. Many have lost their daughters too, not to religious extremism directly but to state-sanctioned violence. Whether weeping over the unarmed and largely ignored corpses of their daughters slain by police or burning with rage at the duplicity of verdicts like the acquittal of Dante Servin, black mothers across the nation are in pain.
While off-duty, Servin shot and killed an unarmed, young black woman, Rekia Boyd, 22. In 2012, he fired his 9mm gun over his shoulder into a Chicago alley where Rekia and a group of her friends stood with their backs turned to him. Last week, he was found not guilty of manslaughter. (Editor's note: Servin's acquittal, in the court's judgment, was due to the fact that the charges made against the by the state were for a lesser crime than those that his alleged actions would mandate. However true, the result of that decision is that the officer gets to walk free.) According to the judge’s ruling: "The act of intentionally firing a gun at some person or persons on the street is an act that is so dangerous it is beyond reckless; it is intentional and the crime, if there be any, is first-degree murder."
Angela Helton, Boyd’s mother, through tears cried: "He literally blew her brains out. ... Her brains were laying in the alley." Servin gets to go home and be with his family and loved ones. Angela will never see her baby girl, Rekia, in this life again.
It’s as bitter a harvest as the recent findings in the Natasha McKenna slaying. McKenna, 37, of Alexandria, Virginia, died after being shocked with a stun gun four times while in handcuffs and leg shackles. The medical examiner listed her cause of death as “schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” while noting that her physical restraint and the use of a “conductive energy device” contributed. The manner of death was listed as an: “accident.”
This finding is nearly as absurd as those leaks claiming that Freddie Gray, 25, had broken his own neck, while his arms and legs were bound behind his back in a Baltimore police van.
That six officers have been charged is promising. Freddie Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden, believes the charges allow her son to “be in peace now,” but when will she find peace? When will the rest of us?
Samaria Rice, the grieving mother of Tamir Rice, 12, who was fatally shot by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun on a playground last year, seems as far from peace as one can get. Mother’s Day will find her in the homeless shelter where she now resides, still awaiting answers in the investigation of her son’s death.
This tragic predicament should not only add fuel to the movement against police brutality, but also it should spotlight the connection between race, gender, poverty and state sanctioned violence. Single black women like Samaria Rice have a median net with of $5 as opposed to the $42,600 of their white counterparts. Single black mothers with children under 18 have the highest rate of poverty, 47.5 percent. These conditions make black mothers and their children vulnerable targets for a bloated, yet ever-hungry and violent criminal justice system.
Let us use this mourning on Mother’s Day to re-energize the struggle for substantive structural change in policing and the legal system as well as advocating for poor mothers and their children. Let’s also respond as feverishly to the deaths of black women and girls, because Aiyana, Rekia, Tanesha, and Natasha also deserve justice. Perhaps then their mothers will be able to find peace on this special day.