‘Something is Going On’: A white worker wakes up to racist police violence
Tamika Mallory, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr, Lucy McBath, and Maria Hamilton, Mothers of the Movement. | Brad Barket / Invision via AP

The author explains that this poem was part of the program at the New York CPUSA African-American History Celebration, Feb. 29. (Video of the event available here.) At the celebration, Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner) spoke eloquently about her long-time leadership of Mothers of the Movement, the organization of African-American mothers whose sons and daughters have been killed by the epidemic of police violence in recent years. They have frequently been speakers at conventions, conferences, and on television shows (including the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and the 2017 Women’s March), sharing their experiences and advocating for political change.

Something is Going On

When one kid is killed,
you think maybe he did have a gun
like the police said he did,
or at least a part of you wonders,

when a second is killed,
you think maybe he did
rush the officers
so maybe the shots were not so bad,

but at the conference
when eight Black and Latino mothers
tell their stories,
each independently of the other,

they had all dealt
with the wave of killings separately,
but as the years went on,
there were more and more of them,

and only now
did they decide to step forward,
you did not know death
had undone so many,

each with a same look on their face,
different details,
same outrage,
same river of tears,

as if they weren’t telling this story to you,
but to all people
and the generations from now,

all the children
and their children’s children,

and the Latino mothers
and the Asian mothers,
and the Palestinian mothers
and the white mothers

you suddenly realize
they couldn’t have all
made up their stories

how shameful
that you doubted them,
all these years

it had to have happened,
the way the mothers said
it did,

the description over the police radio,
the kid walking by,
the sun in the sky,
the cops didn’t see the wallet he whipped out,

in the enemy neighborhood
all they saw was his black skin,

shooting first and asking questions later,
the blood pouring out,
the silence and screams
after the gunshot,

and then no sooner
than the body fell
did the coverup begin,

the stop was legal,
he had a bulge that was suspicious

he whipped out a gun
that wasn’t found,
besides, he had
a criminal record

the brazen way they lied
at the grand jury

it had to have happened,
the way they said it did,

though what that says
about the coroner
and the newspaper reporters
and the district attorney

who so quietly added
their voices to the chorus

you shudder
to think

an arrogance born
of being an occupation army,
an arrogance from years
of getting away with it

but one too many times,
one too many coincidences,
one too many lies,

these mothers,
gathered together
at this conference now,
calling them on it,

and you, who believed them,
how stupid to have
believed them
all these years,

never again,
the mothers say

never again,
never again

although you are white
and they are black
something joins you
to them

at the same time
something breaks
in you

you who thought
you were
so smart,

you, who thought
you were
so slick

but enough is enough,
no use crying over the past,

all that water flowing
under the bridge

you have to start

maybe this is
as good a place

as any
to begin

the blood on the ground,
the screams and the silence
and what other word for it
is there than racism,

it had to have happened
the way the mothers
said it did,

together now,

at the conference

so many people,
so many tears

each story heartbreakingly
the same
yet at the same time
so different,

it had to have
the way they said
it did,

you finally
something is
going on


Chris Butters
Chris Butters

Chris Butters is a socialist and labor activist, retired NYC court reporter, and a former DC 37 (AFSCME) chapter officer. In addition to participating in anti-racist and labor struggles, his poetry continues to be published in Blue Collar Review, a quarterly journal of poetry and prose published by Partisan Press, and many other literary and left poetry magazines.