The Anthology 
Rivers





When The Smoke Clears


By Atlese Robinson



When the smoke clears
Will we be able to breathe?
To live, joyous and free?
Hold our loved ones again?
Meet Justice?

When the smoke clears
Will we remember the power that brought us here?
Continue to light a candle in memoriam?
Have less anxiety as we walk out the door?

When the smoke clears
Will our efforts matter?
Our skin safe?
Our anger no longer vilified?

Or will we go back to business as usual, soon as the smoke clears?


    On May 27, 2020 I went to the 3rd precinct with my brother and his girlfriend to protest. The very first time I protested at this very same precinct was back in 2014, after the murder of Mike Brown. I remember seeing Mike Brown’s face and becoming sick with grief because all I could think about was my brother. This time I was standing beside my brother chanting “I can’t breathe,” and I remember how heavy the grief, anger, and frustration was in my brother’s voice. It was heavy enough to stop time, at least for me. Right in the middle of chaos, I began to cry because my brother deserves better than America. I deserve better than America. We deserve better than America.

    And I’m not concerned with the implications of the above statements because it's true. It’s a fact. We’re living during a global pandemic without proper resources or action plan to keep citizens safe due to inadequate leadership. Despite nation-wide shutdowns, there has been no pause in the genocide against Black bodies. Now the country is reopening to save, primarily, the pockets of people who never have to feel the way that I felt standing on Lake street with a crowd of fed up people.


    Democratic Congressmen made a mockery of our grief and continuous fight against racism by showing up in Kente cloth and kneeling in “solidarity.” Targets and small businesses in my neighborhood alike are adorning their storefronts with “Black Lives Matter” as if their staff didn’t follow me around only months ago. To put it short: the performative allyship and activism gotta go. I don’t want sentimentality. I don’t want cheerful words. I don’t want more “diversity” and “inclusion.” I need safety. I need my family, my friends, every Black person I see, safe. We need justice. And not some abstraction of justice that makes the privileged feel like they’re worthy of praise. But the kind of justice that removes the skewed dynamic of power in the first place. Accountability.

    When Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on camera, in broad daylight one thing was extremely evident: he felt he would get away with it. What’s another hashtag to him? To the apathetic? To those happily racist? To the silent? To the “leaders” who confuse Wakanda for an actual African nation?

    I will say this in conclusion: the thing that gives me hope are the people who stood up to feed their neighbors. The mothers who hummed to their children to drown out the sound of helicopters and gunfire. The loved ones who called. The nurses and health care professionals providing COVID-19 testing within neighborhoods. The neighbors who went out to clean up their streets. These are the leaders I pray emerge after the smoke clears.