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We Can't BreatheWe Can’t Breathe – Against Police Tyranny
Source: IFWEA


To mark the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, my Poetry Corner March 2015 features the poem “Pantoum for Ferguson: 20 Miles a Day” by American poet Angela Consolo Mankiewicz.

The modern pantoum is composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and the third lines of the next stanza. As you’ll notice in Mankiewicz’ pantoum, the repeated lines take on a slightly different meaning and punctuation.

The pantoum’s pattern of rhyme and repetition is the perfect poetic form for giving us the sense of the four-step forward and two-step backward movement of race relations in America.

The marchers march on, twenty miles a day
to Jefferson City, the latest Selma.
They trudge through the years, they know the way
from fifty years past, twenty more miles

Americans have been here before. What happened in Ferguson, Missouri, is nothing new. Electing a black president did not make racism a thing of the past. Since the struggle for freedom and justice exploded in Selma, fifty years ago, the journey to Jefferson, capital of Missouri, has been slow and laborious: twenty miles a day.

to Jefferson City, the latest Selma.
Where will we be – who will we be
in fifty more years? After twenty more miles,
child of today, what will you see?

The poet does not know what lies ahead for race relations in America fifty years ahead. She knows only that our future is in the hands of the present generation, the child of today. What that future will be depends upon the actions we take today and the days going forward.

Where will we be? Who will we be?
Dreamers redeemed? Roads without lives without sticks without stones?
Or, child of today, is what you will see
the night chanting names on slicked over roads

Where will we be? Who will we be? I know only that, like a cancer left untreated, injustice spreads and infects all of society: black, brown, and white people.

Will those of us who dream of racial equality, of freedom and justice for all Americans, regardless of their color, see their dream realized? Will we have to continue protesting in the streets, chanting “We can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter”? Will there be an end to police tyranny against black and brown people on our streets across the United States?

Trudging through years, knowing the way;
still dreaming and marching, twenty miles a day.

For today’s African American children, their parents, and grandparents, the struggle for freedom and justice goes on. The future is in our hands, child of today. Together, let all Americans say “No” to the fear, hatred, and criminalization of The Other.

At my Poetry Corner March 2015, learn more about poet Angela Consolo Mankiewicz and how she sees her role as a white American poet in our ongoing struggle to make black lives matter.