The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

– Hafiz

Last night, I had a dream that I was put in jail. A group of us sat at a table while the white male in charge of our jailing walked around, threatening us, insulting us. In the dream I had visions of myself or others lashing out against him violently, cruelly, all the while knowing that any kind of retaliation would only make our jailing worse. No matter what we did to the man in charge of the jail, he was the one with power and could do far worse to us.

My heart hurts for the people of Ferguson and the family of Mike Brown, and the families of all young Black people killed or incarcerated by a system that disproportionately targets and polices their communities. My heart hurts for the damage caused to these communities by the militarized police responses to protesting we as a nation witnessed, and will continue to witness if things are allowed to continue. My heart hurts for the peaceful protestors whose message can be more easily dismissed because some erupted into violence—knowing that even the most peaceful protest could still have its message dismissed.

I do not support rioting, but I want to pause and think about how even this behavior comes out of systems of racial injustice. In my work with formerly incarcerated people and people with criminal justice charges, I met with a young person who told me, “Everyone already sees me as a criminal, so why don’t I just go ahead and be a criminal?” For many Black Americans last night, the failure to indict sends yet another message that the system sees them as criminal, does not value their lives and well-being. I think of my dream, how we became violent because we had no other recourse. When nonviolent protesting and the grand jury system are not enough for justice, what is left?

I think as a country we should be very concerned about the police practices of escalation and using violence to control our citizens. I think as a country we should be concerned when police are not held accountable. If police are not held accountable for the violence they cause then they are, in effect, being turned into a separate class of people who may commit violence with impunity. That is why this is more concerning to me than so-called “black-on-black” crime or interpersonal crimes in which a white person is a victim of violence than a black person. Those act are already illegal and we have systems of accountability and justice in place. We need those systems in turn to be accountable and just.