Black Lives Matter

Filed under: Blog |

This statement was originally published in the June 5th edition of the Prairie Schooner newsletter.

On May 25th George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a police officer. As Chauvin murdered Floyd, three other officers, Tou ThaoJ. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K. Lane, did nothing. Each time Floyd said he couldn't breathe, the officers did nothing. When Floyd said, "I'm about to die," the officers did nothing. It's hard not to imagine, given what we have seen countless times in the past, that if this tragic and despicable act hadn't occurred in broad daylight, if witnesses hadn't captured it on video, the Minneapolis Police Department would've done everything in its power to obscure and distort the circumstances of Floyd's murder, they would've told the world Floyd's murder was Floyd's fault, Floyd's murderer would be free, Floyd's murderer would be on the job, terrorizing the people of Minneapolis, Floyd's murderer would be earning an annual salary of $90,612. 

In the aftermath of Floyd's murder, protests have erupted across the country. People in every city in America are coming together, taking to the streets, and letting it be known that without justice, there will be no peace. The police have responded with violence and brutality. Police are firing chemcial weapons at protesters. Police are maiming protesters with rubber bullets, batons, and worse. Protesters are dying. Police in Vallejo, CA, shot a protester named Sean Monterrosa five times. Monterrosa was unarmed, on his knees, with his hands in the air. And it's not just police who are killing. In Omaha, NE, an armed vigilante named Jake Gardner shot and killed an unarmed protester named James Scurlock. Douglas County Attorney Donald W. Kleine refused to charge Gardner with a crime. 
Prairie Schooner and the African Poetry Book Fund stand with the protesters, unequivocally. We reject any attempts at characterizing the protests as overzealous or unnecessary. We believe the vast majority of the people on the streets are animated by righteous anger and a deep yearning for justice. We are in awe of the protesters and inspired by their bravery. We've seen countless scenes unfold, protesters putting their bodies on the line in an effort to fight back against the systems of oppression that killed George Floyd. The systems of oppression that have taken so many innocent lives. An evil and malignant force that, if left unchecked, will continue to kill and kill and kill. The people who are fighting back must be supported, they must be celebrated, and they must be empowered. This country and this world must transform, and at this moment it is the protesters who are leading the way.
Prairie Schooner is nearly ninety-five years old, and we exist as part of a land-grant institution with its own sordid history of racism and cruelty. There is no doubt that PS has failed many, many times to offer equal opportunities to Black writers and writers of color. The African Poetry Book Fund originated in response to the lack of publishers engaging seriously with contemporary African poetry. We have worked to amplify the voices of African poets living on the continent and African poets living in diaspora, including African poets living in America. The Black experience is not monolithic or singular, and the Black experience in America is uniquely informed by the wretched particulars of America's historic and continuing racisms. We are a literary organization, and we are committed to fighting against oppression and for liberation. We lay ourselves down for scrutiny, to be tested, to be challenged to do everything we can to not be complicit in the systemic racism and inequity that lies at the heart of these events. We will examine every area of our operations and our efforts to scrupulously erase any vestiges of racism that may exist. This is no small pledge. We are in solidarity with those mourning the death of George Floyd and committed to doing everything to resist the forces that have led to this moment and the many moments to come.