The death of a parent at the hands of the police is like no other. One small girl brought painfully home the devastation that children experience.
Charlotte, North Carolina’s city council held a meeting Monday night to hear from anguished, angry citizens about last week’s fatal police shooting. The plea that stood out to the packed audience came from a small girl who could barely reach the microphone.
Last Tuesday, Keith Lamont Scott was shot as he waited for his child to come home from school. So far, the circumstances indicate there was an excessive use of force. The shooting triggered protests in the streets of Charlotte that continued throughout the past week.
One Small Girl Spoke For So Many
Scott was a father of seven. Zianna Oliphant, the small girl who spoke at the meeting, came to remind a roomful of adults about the devastating pain that police shootings are causing families. A second child stepped up to adjust the microphone for Zianna so that she could be heard.
I come here today to talk about how I feel. And I feel like that we are treated differently than other people. And I don’t like how we are treated.
That’s about as far as she got before being overwhelmed by pain. She hung her head and sobbed. The audience shouted encouragement, but Zianna struggled to compose herself until a woman could be heard vehemently saying, “DO not stop!”
The girl’s head snapped up, and she continued with an emotionally devastating picture of the effect of the shooting on her and other children. Many in the audience also dissolved into tears as she declared:
We are black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this. We have to protest because y’all are treating us wrong.
To applause, Zianna asserted the need for protests because black people have rights. But the most emotional part was yet to come. After emphasizing that she can’t stand how the people in her community are treated, she got to the heart of what it means to be a child faced with the consequences of police brutality:
It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed and that we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame that we have to go to their graveyard and bury them. And we have tears and we shouldn’t have tears. We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.
Zianna finished with tears running down her cheeks and left many others in the same state. This one small girl represented all the children who are the invisible victims of police shootings, whether because they witnessed the violence firsthand or because they heard it from other relatives.
Death At The Hands Of Police Is Like No Other
There is no other death quite like a death at the hands of the police. On top of the loss, children have to deal with the implications of such a death, caused by those who are supposed to protect. Dr. Gabriela Bronson-Castain helps victims in Oakland, CA deal with the psychological impact of this kind of trauma. She said:
They come see us and we tell them it’s not their fault, that the trauma will pass — but does the cycle end? No. They go home, and the color of the skin doesn’t change. How do you develop an internal sense of safety when you’re invariably unsafe?
Zianna was acutely aware that “we are treated differently … just because of our color.” Children in black communities are likely to experience or be aware of more than one color-related incident of violence. As psychology professor Jules Harrell of Howard University put it:
I don’t know if people ever recover from this kind of trauma, especially at a young age. When someone sees it happen again, you see the same kind of reactions to the initial trauma.
This doesn’t even take into account living with chronic loss — the loss of a parent, which can never be healed. This is what we’re doing to our communities, our children, by allowing racially-based police killings to continue.
One small girl brought the point painfully home. Watch Zianna’s powerful speech here:
Feature photo, screenshot from YouTube video.