By Victoria Hemphill
On April 22nd twitter saw nearly 40,000 lemon emojis. Two days later, 450,000. So why were nearly half a million pictures of fruit flooding social media? One word: Beyoncé. One thing is for sure; I was NOT one of the thousands typing a little lemon of excitement. In fact, on February 8th I swore a personal boycott of all things Queen Bey. As the wife of a veteran law enforcement officer, I thought this was the honorable action following her Super Bowl 50 performance. Well, much has changed since my days of Beyoncé abandonment. I feel tremendous guilt and fear when I admit this, but the truth is, I am now a humungous fan of Mrs. Knowles-Carter.
My love for Beyoncé should not cause angst or feelings of treachery, and yet it does. I wish I could educate all people, especially police officers, on my newfound passion for Beyoncé and her courage. Not only do I wish to educate officers, I would love to have a discussion with Ms. Sasha Fierce. She hasn’t answered my email. So for now, you’re stuck with my passionate appeal for #lifematters, I just don’t know whose life when speaking publicly.
The horrific events of August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri renewed my deep pride for my husband’s chosen profession, but also reminded me of the strain he undergoes at work. I replayed ten years of stress and horror I have watched my husband endure. I remember watching him move emotionlessly through the process of his grandmother dying. I knew he had become numb to the pain that those around him were feeling, all as a protection mechanism. Apathetic is the best word to describe my husband. He has to be after seeing the things he has on the job. Like when he had to ask a lady for her only pair of jeans after she told him the intimate details of her rape, or when he had to write a detailed report about a remorseless mother who nearly strangled her daughter to death for dating a boy of color, or when he watched a mother explain how she accidentally suffocated her one-month-old while breastfeeding in the middle of the night. He has been spat at, puked on, shit on, head-butted, loathed, cursed and been treated with less respect than any human deserves.
After Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, I became deeply afraid that my husband would be shot and killed, and my two beautiful boys would lose their wonderful father. Or even worse, I imagined my husband being placed in a situation where he would have to decide, with minimal time to process, whether to shoot to kill or sacrifice his own safety. The events of August were magnified after the events of June 2014. June 8th got far less publicity than August 9th. There were no celebrities like Beyoncé highlighting the social injustice that took place that day; so let me fill you in.
On June 8th Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were shot and killed while on duty working for the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. They were shot in the back of their heads, execution style, while having lunch. According to the Officer Down Memorial Website, Beck and Soldo were two of the 145 officers killed in the line of duty in 2014. What made Alyn’s murder different from the other 144 officers? I knew Alyn. He was from Green River, Wyoming. His little brother Joe and I were friends. He wasn’t a face on the television. He was a hometown boy and I watched his family mourn.
The two events in the summer of ‘14 have calloused my heart. Officer Beck’s death created an unexplainable instinct to trust Officer Wilson and fear Mr. Brown. With firsthand experience, I felt like I could comprehend the stress of Wilson’s job. I immediately loathed #blacklivesmatter. I thought Black Lives Matter activists believed all police officers were corrupt and racist. I knew this was untrue and I fought my hardest to replace #blacklivesmatter with #bluelivesmatter. Now fast forward to 2016.
When Beyoncé highlighted racial tensions with her song and performance of “Formation” I was appalled. I wasn’t alone: “Police groups organized protests and called for a boycott, and the FCC received a deluge of complaints” (McCorvey). On her website Beyoncé wrote, “We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities. It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they ‘stop killing us.” I was related to the THEY and I knew that all of the THEY were not killing THEM. This was my position and I felt confident about my perspective.
Then I took a graduate course on ideas of race and nature in American literature and culture. Within the course I read and researched texts such as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Harriet Jacob and Eric Williams’s, Capitalism and Slavery. We viewed and discussed Beyoncé’s Lemonade. All of a sudden Beyoncé showed me a new perspective on marriage, the role of women, and the importance of stopping all violence against black people.
Hugh Evans, the cofounder and CEO of Global Poverty Project said, “The thing she does really well is understand the importance of true movement building.” She knew she was risking alienating many of her fans, but she also knew her message was more important than any possible financial loss. With over 115 million streams of Lemonade in less than a week, her message was heard. Beyoncé’s narrative in Lemonade pulls fans, much like myself, into her story, “they’re a part of her struggles rather than outside observers” (McCorvey). After my newfound closeness to Beyoncé, I became more compassionate to the horrible killing of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I realize that years of oppression placed on black people in America have played a role in the violent deaths of black men by police officers.
To be clear, I don’t place all police officers under the same blanket of THEY who need to “stop killing us.” I still cry when I read Nicole Beck’s blog about the loss of her husband. I still feel her pain when she writes: “People are SO quick to judge what an officer "should have done" when they know little about what led up to the interaction. […] Apparently officers are supposed to be super human and foresee the future. They are supposed to have special powers that let them see through clothing and quickly determine if a suspect is carrying a weapon or not.” I know that Nicole is right, #bluelivesmatter.
But I also know that Beyoncé is right, too. Just last Monday my family and I were in Salt Lake City. After seeing our license plate, a man in the parking lot sparked up a conversation. My husband’s job came up, and the tragedy in Baton Rouge. The stranger proceeded to tell us he knows one good black man, but the rest are sub-human. Use your imagination for his colorful and inappropriate diction during this interaction. Defining some of his words to my inquisitive seven-year-old was heart wrenching.
So yeah, #blacklivesmatter. There it was right in front of my face. This stranger was concerned about my husband, a white police officer who could have been insane, abusive, or any number of things. He trusted Kent and then labeled an entire population as dismissible. It must remain #blacklivesmatter and not #alllivesmatter. If all lives truly matter, this man and too many others, couldn’t out of hand exclude the lives of those who have black skin. Kevin Roose summarizes it perfectly, “societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.”
Don’t forget about the things I wish to explain to Queen Bey. I’m sure she understands that with great power comes great responsibility. In 2014 Forbes Magazine named her the most powerful celebrity, earning over $115 million between June 2013 and June 2014. Breeanna Hare writes, “Beyoncé’s empire isn't limited to the music business.” Her influence is immense. Alicia Garza points out that, “She uses magic to remind us that we have the power to change the dynamics between police and the communities they're supposed to protect and serve.” But the followers of #bluelivesmatter tend to see Beyoncé as anti-police. To that she responds, “I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things” (Peterson).
Beyoncé, people are listening. You coined the term BeyKind. Please help your Bey Hive understand more about the majority of officers that treat people justly. Address the startling statistics of officers’ work related stress. If Red Lobster can have a 33% spike in sales following the release of “Formation”, where the song which briefly mentions the chain restaurant, imagine how many people will follow your lead in thanking, understanding, or preserving the lives of officers who do not treat people unfairly.
So here I am, the wife of a blue life proudly supporting #blacklivesmatter. That’s right, not blue lives, not all lives, not anything else, just black lives. And I am saying this because I learned about the last 200 years of American history.
If I can say/do/write this, can’t Beyoncé spend a little time working against US vs THEY? Maybe something like #ptsdkillscopsinmorewaythanoneway, tweeted with that adorable police officer emoji or even a little donut? Yeah, that could trend. Badge of Life researched the number of police suicides related to PTSD. In 2008, 140 officers killed themselves and 143 in 2009. After the recent events in Dallas and Baton Rouge one could arguably blame PTSD for an additional 8 officer deaths. Clearly there is a problem. To truly stop police brutality placed on black men, we must educate ourselves on why some officers make terrible decisions. Maybe one way to stop some of the police brutality is to get officers the help they need and deserve. We haven’t tried that yet, and it can’t hurt.
I’ll say it again. #BlackLivesMatter.