Words by BA Ciccolella and Sparkle Williams. Images courtesy of Sparkle Williams.
If you are feeling that the world today is chaotic, confusing, and uncomfortable, that’s normal. It’s high time we lean into those feelings, do the work, recognize what they can teach us, and act on what we learn. One of the ways we can start learning is by looking to members of our community for guidance.
Sparkle Williams is one of the first people that I met at the YMCA, where she taught belly dance. She is also a woman whose opinion I highly value- as a high school teacher, a mother of two, and a beacon of calm reason in our community..
When we spoke on Tuesday, June 2nd, Sparkle and her family had been to four protests in the area, all of which were peaceful for the entirety of the time she attended. The one that had come the closest to breaking that streak was the shutdown of Military Highway on June first. Sparkle’s daughter is a young woman who I have watched hold her own in a 45 minute conversation with white supremacists at the age of 13. But this time, instead of white supremacist protesters, it was a line of police in riot gear. Her daughter started to show signs of a panic attack.
“I stood in front of her, and I was saying ‘You’re not going to shoot a child. You’re not going to shoot a mother. You’re not going to shoot a teacher.’ Luckily the two boys she was with were also able to play big brother and calm her down,” Williams said. “Protesting is a lot of times waiting for something to happen- being in the moment with who came out there. I need to be a model for her.”
Williams was also in attendance on Saturday at the protest that has garnered much positive media attention for the Norfolk Police. “The Norfolk Police Chief came out Saturday. That means nothing to me, though- we were outside the Norfolk Police Operations Center, he was there for maybe an hour, and that’s what made the news. They said nothing about the two hours we were there marching before that. Now, if you were a police officer who said, ‘This was a tragedy, and those who don’t agree should turn in their badge,’ That’s what I want to hear and see.”
There are currently various campaigns to hold police more accountable to the communities that they are supposed to be serving. One part is working to make sure that officers who are let go for disciplinary reasons aren’t shuffled around the country (in a manner that quite frankly reminded this author about the Catholic Church’s scandals).
Another portion of the fight is to make sure that officers who kill are not protected by qualified immunity, which was supposed to protect civil workers from frivolous lawsuits, may soon be under review again by the Supreme Court. In her dissent written on Kisela v. Hughes in 2018, Justice Sotomayor wrote of the SCOTUS decision on qualified immunity, “Its decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”
A third push right now includes the 8 Can’t Wait movement which encourages local engagement by asking citizens to check to see which of 8 different policies that are proven to reduce police brutality are currently in use in their cities (Norfolk, VA, for example, scored 3 out of 8). Other movements call for the complete abolishing of the police force as a whole, to be replaced with more specific social services.
Speaking more on what she’s been seeing locally, “Each protest is currently male led,” Williams continued. She and some other friends are currently having conversations about what they can do as women, to offer “just a different perspective- to be forceful and strong, quietly.” Spotlight recently covered the Mindfulness March for Children which happened the weekend after our interview, Williams was the person who gave us the heads up that the event was happening. Williams’s daughter also organized the march this past Saturday that Spotlight News covered live on our Facebook page. Both marches happened after our original interview date.
Williams is pleased with what she has seen so far during the protests. “When I first got out here it was 50/50 white and black, and there were whole white families out. This is what it needs to be about.”
As for the violence we have seen so much of in the news, “There are always opportunists, whether they are in Fortune 500 companies or on welfare,” Williams said. “It’s the herd mentality. I understand the frustration: ‘This is my time to get mine.’ It’s hard to bridge that adaptation gap, but it would be different if you spoke up on the injustice before the looting started. It presents itself in the same vein as that poem from the ‘40s, ‘…when they came for the Poles, they came for the Gypsies, they came for the Jews, and you did nothing.’ Everyone expects someone else to be putting action behind their thoughts.”
“If you want to bring up MLK, he didn’t just pray it away. He mobilized,” she explained, continuing, “For [Trump] to use the Bible, the word that I live by, and hold it up, and stand in front of that church…” Many Christians (and non-Christians) are quite offended by the photo opportunity that was taken Monday night after the Rose Garden address, where you could hear the violence of authorities breaking up what had been a peaceful protest in the background of the speech- including leaders of the church used as the background of the photo op.
Looking to the future, “I just keep wondering what will be the next distraction,” Williams said. “I’m hoping people don’t lose the momentum.” She encourages everyone to get out and vote, specifically to remove the current leadership. “I don’t care if ‘Uncle Joe’ isn’t your first choice, he can be our Gerald Ford.”
“We don’t study our history,” she mentioned of the past, “Nixon ran on a ticket of law and order. This is our 1968- it was a horrible year. MLK was killed, [Robert] Kennedy was shot, the Vietnam War, the perfect storm of everything blowing up. Establishment people wanted an end to the chaos, so in 1972 Nixon won on law and order.” (Though she pointed out that his “law and order” didn’t last long in his own administration.) “This is our 1968; that’s what it’s starting to feel like.”