Many white Americans say they’ve watched the video of Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck dozens of times. Many Black citizens say more than a year later they’ve still never seen it. Denita Jones isn’t surprised.
“We’ve seen this kind of thing so many times, and a little piece of us dies every time we watch one of these videos,” says Jones. “White people watch it, and they can’t believe it. We know it happened. We don’t need to watch it.”
In the wake of Floyd’s death and in the midst of the social movement which followed, she was invited to help create Lake Highlands Area Moms Against Racism, an amalgam of mothers from a variety of backgrounds interested in teaching their children that all people deserve dignity and respect. Jones’ reputation as an activist in the Black community made her a perfect choice to help lead the group, and the two white women who initially conceived LHAMAR recognized their own delicate role as “allies” for the organization.
“I believed it was time for white allies to play a bigger role in the conversation,” says Jones. “We’ve done this for so many years and gone unheard. We’ve been shouting from the rooftops, and no one has listened to us. It’s time for privileged white people to say, ‘Even we’ve had enough.’”
Her background helps her appreciate the nuance of the problem. Her father devoted decades to law enforcement, and her godfather was a sheriff back home in Mississippi. She’s rearing three sons, and the idea of sending them out into the night to attend a party or work an evening shift scares her senseless.
“When you hear people ask for police accountability, people assume we’re police bashing. That’s not the case. I grew up seeing good policing, so I know it exists. I’m hopeful that the problem has a solution.”
“We know that most officers are good,” she says, “but we’ve seen so much and had to have this conversation again and again each time a Black boy is killed by police. My three boys ask me, ‘Why are y’all pushing for police reform? You are just upsetting yourselves. Nothing is going to change.’ That is heartbreaking.”
The Lake Highlands Area Moms, who recently added “and more” to their moniker to include dads, grandparents and friends who support the cause, branched out from its original project, the “Say Their Names” traveling memorial to people of color who died at the hands of police officers. They now organize adult, teen and children’s book clubs, podcasts, school board advocacy and petitions for police reform, among other methods of education and activism. Every mom, they say, deserves freedom from fear that her child will be killed on his way home tonight.
“We used to have Crime Dog McGruff come into schools and communities to invite kids to tell police when they need help or see a crime,” says Jones. “Now we tell children to stay away from cops. We need to get back to community policing. We have to get back to knowing our patrol officers.
“Our ultimate goal is mutual trust – mutual respect between officers and the community. For too long in black and brown communities, officers have seen a black or brown person and assumed they were doing something wrong, as if walking down the street is a problem. I want the police to know I am for you, and I want you to be for me. I want you to allow my son to come home at night, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”