WE WERE ARRESTED TOGETHER!
By Turquoise LeJeune Parker and Donald Parker
By Turquoise LeJeune Parker and Donald Parker
WIFE: Whenever I realized the action we’d been talking about for months was going to take place on June 14th and June 15th, well honestly, I was actually kind of excited. Donald and I are always sharing our big and small moments with our kids. We aren’t stepping into something new. I mean, our students were guests at our wedding. So, we got up on that Tuesday morning, which was our 3 year wedding anniversary by the way, and set out to do what we always do, take care of our kids. We marched those grueling, boiling HOT and long 23 miles to the capitol together.
HUSBAND: And man was it LONG! My feet still hurt actually but anything to support my wife and the children we teach. I was still kinda like,"DANG, why does this have to be on our anniversary though", lol. I carried that large tree branch, which was described by a writer as a small tree, from Durham to Raleigh not to just symbolize struggle but to show an even greater picture that if Jesus Christ can carry a cross for the sins of the world and defeat sin and death giving us access to eternal life, then I as an educator can carry some large tree branch for the burdens and struggles of our children to win over the governor giving them access to a better and more funded education.
WIFE: Yea, it wasn’t easy. At all. It was so hard, but WE MADE IT! We really bonded with other educators those 23 miles. We grew to really love, respect and appreciate so many people who we’d never met before that 23 mile journey. Ever since those days, when we drive near any part of our trek, we reminisce. As we turned the corner and the North Carolina Museum of History was on our right and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our left, we chanted and screamed our affirmations for the future of our public schools. After the "All In for Public Education" rally by the General Assembly, we turned around and set out to complete our mission. This time the North Carolina Museum of History was on our left, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our right. I feel like I have walked through and protested loudly right in that same corridor a million times and boy does it get you hype. It’s something about the buildings, the way sound works, being beside people fueled with passion and a strong desire to not quit until our babies get what they deserve! We took that left onto Edenton St. screaming, then we took that right onto Wilmington St. shouting, “We' ready! We' coming!” (That one gets me hype too). See just a few weeks before that, and a few days before that very moment, we held press conferences requesting a meeting with the governor. We are teachers after all. All we know how to do is meet, so I was ready and prepared in my mind for what I would say in our meeting. Crystal Scales Rogers, Dawn Amy Wilson and Bryan Proffitt and I looked at each other and said, "It’s game time y'all." When we turned onto Wilmington St., I saw the doors of the capitol still open because it wasn’t 5:00 pm yet. When we turned facing that main entrance, the door was being shut. We called the governor’s aide repeatedly, we went around the building and knocked on all four doors of the capitol hoping for the best. At that last door, we decided that if our kids can’t get it….SHUT IT DOWN!
HUSBAND: To be completely honest, I sat myself down while they walked around the building knocking on the doors because my foot was killing me. Then I heard the police officers' walkie talkies going crazy saying,"They are moving to the street." Then I got up and started walking to the street which included the educators that marched and people that supported educators which totaled at least 100 people.
WIFE: So, after the police told everyone to move to the sidewalk, 14 of us North Carolina Public School teachers unlawfully and willfully stood in the 100 block of E Morgan Street linked arms with signs in our hands that said "I’D RATHER BE TEACHING" and we SHUT IT DOWN!
HUSBAND: At that time, I didn’t really know what was going on when I walked up but all I knew was I saw my wife in the middle of the street locking arms with the other educators. I later found out that the teachers standing in the street already planned to do so and I wasn’t in those plans but basketball, participating in band, and two fraternities have taught me teamwork and brotherhood. I couldn’t have let my NOW teammates and brothers and sisters that I walked with for 23 miles from Durham to Raleigh for our children stand in the street without me. As a husband, there was also no way I was letting my wife get arrested without me either while I sat on the sidelines, clapped, pulled out my phone to record and wave her on. Man, "I’m 'bout that action boss" Marshawn Lynch style. "You know why I’m here." "I’m thankful." We doin’ this together.
WIFE: Locking arms in the middle of a very busy street and refusing to move wasn’t an easy move we made. It was scary actually. It was very scary until the interaction with the officer began, then it felt like we were definitely doing the right thing. When the police arrested Donald that scared me because they put real handcuffs on him. They sat him in the police van alone and I had never imagined I would see him being taken away from me in handcuffs.
HUSBAND: See, they arrested me first. "You do know you are now under arrest?" says the officer in a very southern voice. I slowly raised my head and stared into his eyes with shades on. Behind those shades were eyes of a black man whose heart was torn between two dissonant choices. One, supporting his wife, educators locking arms, and the children of NC who are suffering at the hands of poor government calmly and two, rise up against the cops as a black man whose eyes are gouged and ears are punctured with hate from stories of innocent blacks interactions with law enforcement like Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many more. I hadn't answered his question after about 7 seconds of a silent stare so he asks,"Are you going to resist arrest?" I respond “Yes,” but it was to his first question and Alexa responds,”He means yes to your first question.” Once I answered that I am not resisting arrest, I give him my book-bag and he grabs my right arm to put behind my back. Let me just say that as peaceful protesters with a crowd of people watching, the force he used to put my arms behind my back wasn’t aggressive but it was still painful. I could only imagine the force and effort he would have used for someone who was not as peaceful or if they were alone with just officers. What made me feel isolated, segregated and discriminated against was the fact that out of 14 teachers, the one black male teacher was the only person they used real cuffs on to arrest. Everyone else had zip cuffs. Man, those things were tight. I hated the metal sound they made and I felt for the first time in my life I had no freedom. While walking to the police van, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a criminal and that we just did something honorable and the policemen were not aggressive with us at all. So I walked with my head high with no shame. It’s crazy that as a black man, I go my entire life making sure I stay out of trouble that would involve the police and the one time I’m arrested, it displayed one of the highest forms of altruism.
WIFE: In that moment, I began to squeeze Bryan and Leah’s hand even harder. It hurt me in a place I don’t know how to explain. Then everyone started screaming, "We love you Donald! We see you Donald!" I could barely make those words out but I thank God for hearing those words. As the police began picking the rest of us up, I cried even more. I cried because I heard Sendolo on the bullhorn saying one of Assata Shakur’s famous quotes:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
HUSBAND: It was hard for me as a black man and a husband to be in handcuffs and see another man, a white male police officer, grab my wife. I hated it. Putting those zip cuffs on her, standing her up, etc...(smh). It pissed me off really. And this isn’t hate for another race or anything, it’s hate for corruption and for many years policemen have systematically exhibited corrupt ways towards blacks. That viewpoint doesn’t change because the cause is for our students. It’s just placed to the rear and came to the forefront as I sat detained in that police van hearing the crowd chant,"We Love You Turq."
WIFE: But I couldn’t hear them saying "We Love you Turq." It was like the world turned off for a few seconds. I could only hear the officer. I do however, distinctly remember hearing Matt Hickson’s voice saying: “The Professors love you and are proud of you for this.” That made me smile and feel like this was right. Although extremely frightened about the care of my husband because of the horrible history of our men and women of color in police custody, I was so extremely proud of him. I was so happy to be taking such huge steps for our kids together. Weird, but I fell more in love with him that day, lol. The police didn’t know we were husband and wife. But we got placed right beside each other in the police van only separated by the plexiglass. I will never ever get the picture out of my mind looking at my husband through that glass in that police van. All for our students, our babies. They deserve more.
HUSBAND: Yea. I’ll never forget that either. The heat, the confinement, and seeing her without the freedom to touch was rough. Those real cuffs hurt too, man.
WIFE: What we did that day was for the children. What about the children? What about the babies? They were who I thought about the whole time. Who we all thought about. Who we all did this for. These children have dreams, emotions, needs and they are all being choked right now by poor elected leaders. We walked in that street, formed that line, locked hands, and eventually sat down locking arms because our kids can’t take it anymore. It’s easy to ignore this ridiculous and embarrassing situation that is happening in our state because its "grown-ups" making the decisions but really, the kids are at the center. If we reminisce for any quick moment, we didn’t get where we are as a country (even though we have so very far to go), by just standing on the sidelines and doing nothing about the basic needs and rights of our babies. We got where we are by brave men and women holding hands, singing, chanting, row by row, of what they believe was a possibility for our country and for our future. And look, we’re living in some of what they fought for. Their circumstances were not as gentle as ours. The police officers that dealt with us on June 15th, 2016 were kind and respectful. The police during demonstrations some time ago were disrespectful, disgraceful, and degrading to say the least. But those demonstrators didn’t care. They realized that drastic situations call for drastic demonstrations. I’ve been in the classroom for going on six years, and in that short time, I have seen some things. No one can make me believe that what the 14 of us did that day was wrong. Nope, not at all.
I’ll tell you what’s wrong:
I’ll tell you what’s wrong:
-What's wrong is the teachers having to set GoFundMe after DonorsChoose after GoFundMe after DonorsChoose just to get full sets of books, supplies, and other classroom and school necessities.
-What's wrong is the achievement school district bill.
-What's wrong is the attempt to silence educators.
-What’s wrong is elected officials taking personal deals that benefit themselves and throwing our kids under the bus.
-What's wrong is our kids not having enough!
On June 15th, 2016 I was ready for something beyond emails and sitting passively; I was over it. I am beyond tired of hearing the negative rhetoric around my school and schools like mine all across this great state and nation. The rhetoric says we're failing. NO! These elected officials are failing our public schools. My beloved school is NOT an F school. Mrs. Parker’s Professors classroom and the many beautiful habitats of learning like mine, ARE NOT FAILING! We are doing the best we can for our babies with what we have. They deserve more. What about the children? Remember when you were a child? Remember how much ambition, drive, excitement you had? Remember that someone invested in you? Someone told you you could be anything you wanted to be? If not for those who loved you and who cared enough to show us, where would we be today? How can we just leave our kids out to dry like this? Nope, I won’t do it. Our babies deserve better. I’ll fight for our babies.
HUSBAND: Can you imagine for a second how frustrating it would be to not have a textbook to take home or the ones you take home are 10 years old and older, ripped, missing pages and are falling apart? Now, in a different context, imagine how frustrating it would be to use a computer from 10 years ago or a phone from 10 years ago? Not the easiest task. Dr. William P. Foster, the late great band director of the Florida A&M University, once said,"Why should we provide 2nd class resources for students and expect 1st class results?" My eyes in my mugshot are saying,"I can't believe all of this has happened to educators that just want to do their job efficiently for our children and we are punished if we fail to do so." Don't you think if things were the way Pat McCrory and his team are trying to make them out to be, teachers wouldn’t have to lock arms in the street protesting. And what's most ironic, as someone said in the detention center, is that the people that are about following rules are the ones that are breaking them, not even for themselves but for students. Marching and protesting for the love of my wife and the many students in North Carolina was an honor and a privilege. Leading by example is something I would gladly do again because I can. As Jesse Williams said at the B.E.T. Awards,”A system built to divide, impoverish, and destroy us can not stand if we do.” Stand for something or you’ll float with or fall for anything. Stand for our children. Students deserve more.
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