VIEW: Prioritizing Black Mothers

Catherine R. Squires is a Minnesota Women’s Press VIEW columnists. “There is no going ‘back to normal.’ There is only re-entry. We must take time to reflect and to plan how to re-engage with each other in the wake of failures we have witnessed in health care, education, law enforcement, media, and government.”

I want to remember my reaction to the verdict this week against the man who murdered George Floyd. I had a strange mix of feelings: relief and sorrow, hope and weariness.  And then, before I could let myself start to cry, I felt rage. Rage surged because I had no time to start processing my thoughts about one policeman’s trial because of another local police officer who killed a Black child.

The news on the verdict broke as the mother of 20-year-old Daunte Wright was preparing for his funeral. The news broke at the end of Black Maternal Health Week. The news broke and reemphasized that many of us live in the terror that we and our children will suffer an early death, whether it be due to unequal, neglectful health care systems or police shootings. 

It has been most heartbreaking for me to hear the voices of all the mothers.  All the mothers who have gathered to give support to the most recent mothers, fathers, siblings, and cousins of children killed by police. The mothers of Eric Garner, of Breonna Taylor, and others continue to give their testimonies and try to help people see the madness. 

There is now a kind of script — a set of expected rituals that occur in the wake of these killings. The family appeals for justice. Benjamin Crump and Al Sharpton arrive to support with legal and media circuses.  And the mothers of children killed by police in the past two decades gather to say prayers, give hugs, and help the members of their new sisterhood of grieving make it through the day.

I admire and applaud these women for being so giving, so strong. But I want to live in a society that doesn’t extract this kind of emotional labor from mothers.  I want to live in a society that nurtures mothers and children, fathers and cousins, so that there aren’t funerals and hashtags and press conferences about civil settlements after hung juries or before guilty verdicts. 

I started to wonder: What would we be able to do to support Black mothers and their children if George Floyd was alive, and the city used the money paid in settlement to the Floyd family to support 500 Black mothers in Minneapolis? The settlement was $27 million dollars. This could pay for:  

  • 500 Black mothers to have a midwife assisted birth and doula support, $385,500 — $2,885,500 total
  • 6 months of infant care for 500 babies in a child care center, $4,810,000 — $19,304,500 left
  • 12 months of childcare for 500 toddlers, $8,372,000 
  • See list below for this and other sources of spending

There would still be $10,932,500 left over to give those 500 Black mothers a $21,865 grant to use for whatever they wish: housing, continuing education, starting a business, starting a college savings account for their baby, supporting an elder’s retirement, or buying a car.  

When we say we cannot afford quality child care for all, culturally supportive birth options, and fair housing, we are being disingenuous. What we are saying is that we prefer to spend the money in other ways.

Our tax dollars are working to support a system that regularly produces anti-Black violence.  To continue the status quo is to say the system doesn’t need to change as long as we can “compensate” victims’ families.

To continue the status quo is to say we would rather sacrifice Black children and families to maintain a particular, peculiar definition of public safety that does not serve all citizens equally.