Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Body Count / Bodies Count

I’ve been back in the Bay for 4 days, after a 2-short trip to see family, including to mingle with the ghosts of dead family, and have already gone to 2 events where other families recounted 2-many deaths, but at the hands of state executioners: at the first panel, talk of 43 students murdered by military and police in Mexico — but mention of so many more “disappeared” over 2-many years; at the second, 3 black men murdered by cops in the United States — but now, as a woman told me, “1 every 12 hours” or even “1 every 8 hours.”People shouldn’t have to be mathematicians to mourn.

Yet at both conversations, families who’ve forever lost loved ones to killer cops did nothing but count: how many hours after San Francisco police murdered O’Shaine Evans until they called his mom to tell her; how many times Erica Garner has watched the video of her dad being killed by NYPD officers; how many years, divided by months and minutes, since Oscar Grant was slain by BART police; how many students went to Iguala, Guerrero, as part of organizing a demonstration, and how few came home, and now how many of their families have moved in together, into the Ayotzinapa school where their children went, to grieve and resist. Families count off the number of bullets that gunned down their father, nephew, brother, or son; the number of police who shot those bullets; the number of hours the police left their loved one in the street, on a bed of concrete, a sheet of blood, a tarp for a blanket, surrounded by yellow caution tape and killers in blue. They count off the types of people who get targeted: black or brown, poor or homeless, immigrant or indigenous, those seen as physically or mentally ill.

It’s as if one counts long enough, hard enough, with just the right calculations of every split second, one will find some exact equation for what justice would and could look like, on one’s own terms. Numbers, unlike police, seemingly can’t lie; numbers can reveal the truth of how one’s beloved kin was stolen from them. From there, perhaps numbers will add up to some sort of healing, albeit nonlinear, and never a neat sum total.

It’s as if one counts vigilantly, counts every detail down to minutiae, their loved one’s body will count after all — count as it didn’t count in life to those forces that can take life so easily, 2 often, 2 readily, with 0 consequences.

People, “survivors” of and warriors against police and state terror, shouldn’t have to know math, so intimately, so well.

But in these families’ counting and recounting, in the shared spaces of schooling ourselves together on pain and suffering, vulnerability and rage and tears and sometimes laughter, bodies that are told — with bullets and prisons, disappearances and mass graves — that they don’t count, add up to a humanity beyond compare.

In these sorrowful, strong, public body counts, in struggle together, life just might start to really count, beyond measure.

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, fragment of a painting for Caravana 43 panel, SF Mission, April 6, 2015.)

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This entry was posted on April 10, 2015 by in Dispatches from Life, Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces.
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