This Mother's Day weekend, moms across the United States are leading protests, vigils, and marches to demand justice for children slain by police and vigilante violence—and to send the message to parents and young people alike that Black Lives Matter.
From Chicago to Washington, D.C., many of those organizing mobilizations on Saturday and Sunday are mothers who have lost their own children.
"What better way to spend my Mother's Day than to be fighting for my child," said Panzy Edwards, whose 15-year-old African-American son Dakota Bright was shot in the head and killed by a Chicago police officer in November 2012. "I'm marching to honor my son's life that was taken by the Chicago police department," Panzy Edwards told Common Dreams. "I'm marching to honor lives taken by police everywhere."
"As mothers of black children, we want to see a world where our children are safe and valued and grow up knowing their lives matter."
—Audrey Stewart, Mothers With a VisionPanzy Edwards is not alone in her loss. According to a report released in April 2013 by the Malcom X Grassroots Movement, in 2012 an average of one black person was killed every 28 hours through extrajudicial means—by police, security guard, or vigilante violence.
The research collaborative Mapping Police Violence found that, in March 2015, 36 black people were killed by police, averaging one every 21 hours.
Beyond killings, studies show that black communities are also disproportionately criminalized by law enforcement. A report released last November by USA Today found that, in all of the 3,538 police departments investigated, black people are more likely to be arrested than non-black racial groups for every type of criminal charge.
"My purpose is to shed light on the fact our kids are being killed in the south side of Chicago," said Panzy Edwards. "I don't think people really understand how hurtful, how painful, how much agony comes with what they're doing to us. The city says 'we feel your pain,' but they're not giving us anything. We're fed up. I am fighting every day so that my son's voice can be heard. I'm fighting for other mothers alongside me."
On Saturday afternoon, protesters will gather at the location where Dakota Bright was shot, in a city still reeling from the recent "not guilty" charge for the police officer who killed black woman Rekia Boyd.
This includes hundreds participating on Saturday in the Million Moms March in Washington, D.C., which was initiated by the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based organization Mothers United for Justice.
"This Mother’s Day, let’s come together to demand an end to this cycle of violence, this society of institutionalized racism and police militarization," wrote Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Elijah Bell, who was killed by New York plainclothes police officers on his wedding day in November 2006 at the age of 23. "We are healers, teachers, caretakers, givers of life, and so much more. Mothers are powerful; if we come together, we can be unstoppable."
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Bell is joined in the capital by mothers across the country, who plan to march to the Department of Justice, where they will "present their demands for justice and racial equality, in the names of their slain children."
Organizers emphasize that, while it's important to make visible the role of mothers in the movement for racial justice, their leadership is not new.
"For generations in this country, it has been mothers picking up the pieces of state violence against communities of color and leading the charge to defend their families and children," said Audrey Stewart who is co-organizing a Mother's Day Gathering for Black Lives in New Orleans on Sunday as part of the informal collective Mothers With a Vision, mostly comprised of mothers with black children.
"We have been concerned about the way that women and transgender women's experiences haven't always been centered in the coverage of police killings," Stewart told Common Dreams. "We felt it was an important time to speak to women's experiences and how black women and black transgender people are affected."
Studies and statistics show that transgender people of color are heavily impacted by the police and vigilante violence that are stoking nation-wide outrage.
"What better way to spend my Mother's Day than to be fighting for my child."
—Panzy Edwards, mother of Dakota Bright, killed by Chicago police in 2012 According to the report entitled We Deserve Better, published in 2014 by the the youth of color-led lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) organization BreakOUT!, 84 percent of transgender people interviewed said they had been profiled by police on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in New Orleans, and 42 percent of LGBTQ people of color said they had been arrested after calling the New Orleans police for help.
Nationwide, a harrowing number of transgender women of color across the United States have been murdered in 2015 alone, including: Penny Proud, Goddess Edwards, Michelle (Yazmin) Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, and Taja Gabrielle De Jesus. In addition, one gender non-conforming person of color, Lamar Edwards, was killed this year.
"As mothers, we have problems with what is going on around the country," said Stewart. "What everyone is talking about right now in Ferguson and Baltimore—the police killing of black men and women—is nothing new, but we are seeing increased attention to issue."
"As mothers of black children, we want to see a world where our children are safe and valued and grow up knowing their lives matter," Stewart added. "It is an important time for us to come together and envision the world we want to create."