woman jaywalking

In Which a Black Pedestrian Redefines Violence

by | April 1, 2021

Busted for jaywalking…

Long Beach Police Department Officer Miguel Rosales, badge number 5747, pulls up to the curb on his motorcycle and says, “Let me talk to you for a second.” He speaks as if we are acquaintances, as if Sandra Bland and George Floyd and Tony McDade and Rekia Boyd and Daniel Prude aren’t dead anymore, as if his gun is a toy, and Tamir Rice is turning nineteen this June, maybe even attending my alma mater in Ohio.

It is Wednesday, February 10th, 2021, and I just crossed the street at 4th and Redondo against the orange hand, because there were no cars at the light, because I am a native New Yorker, because I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth, and I want to spend as little of it as possible standing on a street corner waiting for a light to change. But it doesn’t actually matter why. What matters is that Officer Rosales has dismounted and is approaching me to inform me that I jaywalked.

I tell him, like the enemies we are, that there were no cars coming, that I’m running late, and then I step back when I realize that this man is maskless.

He insists that there was a car, and that it had to slow down for me. He’s talking about the lone vehicle a long way back from the intersection, the type of object in motion I learned to assess back in Mr. Neenan’s AP physics class, the vehicle barreling toward the light going well over the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit, praying to the lead-foot gods to delay the inevitable transition from green to yellow to red.

Meanwhile, six blocks away, amidst soaring coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County, Dana Tanner — owner of the wanna-be-bougie eatery “Restauration” — is serving food for dine-in service against the city’s order for restaurants to restrict service to takeout-only.

Meanwhile, six blocks away, amidst soaring coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County, Dana Tanner — owner of the wanna-be-bougie eatery “Restauration” — is serving food for dine-in service against the city’s order for restaurants to restrict service to takeout-only. Throughout the pandemic, this white woman has been seating and serving food to customers on the back patio of her restaurant.

It is in this moment that I understand the choice that Officer Rosales has made. He saw the speeding car. He knows that the light was about to change and that the motorist was a good ten miles over the limit coming up to the intersection. Instead of policing the driver, he has chosen to bring his unmasked-in-the-middle-of-a-global-pandemic self to me, who is, luckily, double-masked today.

I am in trouble. I am in danger. So many of us are in constant danger.

On November 24th, 2020 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to uphold the Department of Public Health order to close restaurants for all dine-in service, fearing that the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases would soon overwhelm local healthcare infrastructure. This had already happened in cities like New York, NY, Minot, ND, and El Paso, TX where the city had resorted to hiring prisoners at two dollars an hour to help transport the bodies of deceased COVID patients from the overflowing morgue. At the meeting where this decision was announced, Dr. Muntu Davis of the LA County Department of Public Health cited a CDC study conducted across ten states that showed that COVID-19 patients were twice as likely to have dined out at a restaurant as reason enough for the cautionary measures.

Officer Rosales would like me to show some respect for him, for the laws that he represents, the laws that he is standing barefaced in front of me breaking, the laws that say it is nobody’s fault Breonna Taylor is dead.

Officer Rosales has not approached me to improve police-community relations or to “talk to me for a second.” Officer Rosales would like me to show some respect for him, for the laws that he represents, the laws that he is standing barefaced in front of me breaking. Amy Cooper, the Central Park dog walker who called the police on a Black birdwatcher and claimed that her life was being threatened when the man asked her to leash her dog, was cleared of all charges a few weeks ago; she strode away in a cloud of white triumph after completing five “therapy sessions.” These laws? The ones that refuse to find justice for Breonna Taylor? 

These laws say that it is nobody’s fault that she is dead. 

All Black people know this version of the law, know this definition of justice. These “laws” held me hostage in Western Massachusetts for nearly twelve years, and in December 2019, I narrowly escaped with my life after the Easthampton and State Police and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles dehumanized and degraded for six months over a parking ticket. I drove across the country to live with the Black friend I had left, to live in a city that had “real” problems.

I had hoped to be left alone, left alive.


Dana Tanner, YouTube
Dana Tanner, YouTube

Two weeks after the city-wide dine-in bans take effect, Dana Tanner does a video interview with ParkBench.com where she fumbles her way through an explanation of the cuisine she offers at Restauration and talks about how much the community appreciates what she brings, as if gingerbread houses, sangria, and vegan menu items will save us all from a deadly virus. She states she’s not open for dine-in service. I walk past the restaurant almost daily. 

She has been serving sit-down customers this entire time.

I am standing at the familiar intersection of profound ignorance and absolute power.

Officer Rosales asks for ID. I hand him my Massachusetts driver’s license.

“This is what you choose to spend your time on? In the middle of a global pandemic? Where is your mask?” I ask, retreating further to widen the three feet of distance between us.

He gestures up to the helmet covering his head and answers that he doesn’t need to wear a mask because he has a helmet on. This response astounds and frightens me. A new vaccine-resistant strain of the virus is circulating, and this man is trying to kill me in more ways than one. My legs are trembling. My body recognizes before I do that I am standing at the familiar intersection of profound ignorance and absolute power. I swallow hard and try to plant my feet further into the pavement to stop the shaking. I state the obvious: “It doesn’t cover your face or your mouth!”

He begins writing the ticket.


On New Year’s Eve, I walk to the grocery store for mixed greens. Restauration is open. The sign on the door says that they are having a “peaceful protest.” This event has been widely publicized on social media, and Dana Tanner is taking reservations. A DJ spins. Alcohol flows at an open bar. That morning, the city apparently issued Tanner “a warning.” Next, she could receive a one-hundred-dollar citation. 

“I’m not going to argue with you about this,” he says. “You seem like an intelligent lady.”

Officer Rosales asks, “What is your address?”

“Why do you need it?”

“So we can send you a reminder.”

Like I need a reminder.

“Thanks,” I say, “I don’t need one.” Apparently, my primitive brain and its AFAB history have a sense of self-preservation. I’m thanking a man I’m terrified of. He asks for my address again. I tell him that I don’t understand, and he says that if I had an in-state driver’s license it would be different. I still don’t understand. It wouldn’t be different. I push the issue. I have forgotten my address. I’ve also forgotten how to breathe and what my middle name is. I had forgotten that I was still here until now, that I was still on this earth, in these United States.

Trauma makes it hard to live in a Black body.

He repeats that the address is for the reminder, and I say I don’t need one, and then he says that he needs it. Otherwise, he’ll have to arrest me.

“You’re going to arrest me for jaywalking?” I ask, glancing at his motorcycle.

“I don’t want to. But I will,” he says.

“123 Main Street,” I answer.

My mind recalls the outline of the apartment where I lived when I first arrived in California. I can’t remember that address either. It was an island. Lots of rich people. Hardly any police. Officer Rosales tells me that it’s against the law to give false information to a police officer. It’s illegal not to tell a man with a gun, a man who is deputized to kill, where you live. I insist that I don’t know my address. That I just moved here. I’ve lived here for almost a year. I’m not playing a game. I’m afraid. I don’t know any of the numbers or letters.

“You have not explained why you need it,” I repeat.

“I’m not going to argue with you about this,” he says. “You seem like an intelligent lady.”

“You have not said anything comprehensible!” There is no logic to his words or actions, unless I count the logic of white supremacy. I repeat the nonsense he has told me: “You said the address was for a reminder, and I said ‘thank you but I don’t need a reminder…’”

He threatens to call for backup, says a sergeant will “explain” things to me. He says something into his radio. I call my clients to let them know that I will be late, for jaywalking. For walking. 

BLM / Long Beach Pride
Black Trans Lives Matter, Long Beach Pride. Photo by Geoff Cordner

Dana Tanner admits that her decision to stay open is about money. She says she and her staff are struggling to pay their bills because the restaurant industry is suffering at the hands of the city’s “arbitrary” and “capricious” laws. Dana Tanner comes from a family of restaurateurs. According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, Tanner’s parents own three California locations of the popular fondue franchise “The Melting Pot.” One of their locations recorded $4.2 million in sales that year. Tanner has been a business owner for fifteen years. Last year she received a $71,600 PPP loan through the CARES Act.


My clients are Black physicians. They have two young children; I’m a developmental psychologist and youth educator. The husband and wife decide that it’s safer not to send the Black man into an encounter with the police. The wife says that she is coming to get me. She hears the fear and frustration in my voice. As I am talking to her, another maskless man with a gun pulls up on another police motorcycle. I tell her that there are two of them now. She says she is coming. She is coming to try and save my life.

Back in Massachusetts, no one came for me. My closest Black friend had been gunned down in the Pulse Nightclub shootings, and I had never recovered. I had been fired from my job as a child and family therapist at a nonprofit for attending the funeral in Florida, for grieving too long, being too far behind in my paperwork. For being as far behind as everyone else. For refusing to sign my name to psychological assessments that my white supervisor had edited to be diagnosis-heavy and grammatically incorrect.

Brown-skinned people do not get the luxury of naming and honoring their trauma. White friends called the police to do a “wellness check” on me when they worried I was too overcome with sadness and rage. They thought they were going to save me with a phone call. To the cops.

Brown-skinned people do not get the luxury of naming and honoring their trauma. All I had in the Pioneer Valley were white acquaintances and friends to wring their hands and tell me how sorry they were, to say how impressive it was that my hair grew so fast, to call the police to do a “wellness check” on me when they worried I was too overcome with sadness and rage. They didn’t understand the profound indignity of being Black in this country, and they thought they were going to save me with a phone call. To the cops. Nobody ever said, I’M COMING TO GET YOU, TO SAVE YOUR LIFE. But that is what my client, this Black woman, is saying. She is coming for me. She is a doctor and a mother, and she is prepared to lay her life down for mine. With mine.


Dana Tanner tells the Long Beach Post that she has borrowed money from her parents to pay her employees’ rent. She’s not going to “let them down,” adding, “It’s not right.” Tanner says she wishes more restaurants would join her in staying open; join her in her kind of law-breaking, in ignoring science and spreading a deadly virus that will disproportionately kill Black and brown and low-income people. 


I know that the rise and fall of my chest does not carry much weight in this country, in this world. There is nobody counting on me. No dogs, no fish. My father is a retired NYC Transit Authority train operator who spends most of his days shooing squirrels away from his bird feeders and ordering watches on QVC. My mother is an elementary school teacher. My parents can’t pay anyone’s bills but their own. I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews in a few years. The youngest one probably wouldn’t recognize me in a photo. I am a single queer trans non-binary psychologist and writer, and I have been hiding out for nearly two years.

I have been hiding because the one thing that I always thought I had was the right to die on my own terms. And now, standing in front of Officer Rosales and his Sergeant, I am made aware once again that I don’t even have that. The thing that actually kept me going through the madness of living in the racist town of Easthampton, Massachusetts was the comfort that if I decided it was too much, if I needed to rest and never think about this maddening and cruel game again, I could walk into the pond behind my house and that would be my decision, my execution of agency.

The day that my friend called the police on me, the day that they stood at the threshold of my bedroom at one in the morning as I crouched unclothed and trembling behind the door changed that. The officers refused to close the door so that I could get dressed, and then told me that I needed to “calm down” or they were going to have to take me in. They were supposedly there to check on my wellbeing, and yet the entire situation quickly turned into a life-threatening encounter.


On January 19th, 2021, the Long Beach Press Telegram publishes a story about Dana Tanner. She has been charged with four misdemeanor counts for violation of state and city COVID-19 orders. She sends her lawyer to face her charges. She remains at her restaurant, which is still open for business. The Press Telegram reports that Tanner acknowledges seating patrons since December, in defiance of the bans against in-person dining.

I know how to fight. I know how to fight a man. I won’t win, but I know how to fight.

My client calls me back. I’d hung up on her, thinking maybe there was a way to save my own life. If I could focus all my energy on that, all of my elite education and my advanced degree and my enunciation and my psychological training, maybe I’d get to live. At the very least, maybe two Black people wouldn’t have to die today. She says “where are you? I’m coming to get you.” 

Long Beach Police, BLM protest
Long Beach Police, BLM protest. Photo by Geoff Cordner.

I tell her my location. Everything is slow now. I was outnumbered before. The man, the gun, the racism and bigotry. Now I am engulfed in premature obituaries that enumerate every supposed wrong I’ve ever done. I hang up on her again. I may have to fight. I won’t win, but I have to fight, and I can’t be distracted. They will move quickly. The body cam footage will show that I swung first, but when two men with guns are coming toward you, what else is there to do but fight? I have been fighting for my place in this world since I carved out four pounds for myself in a womb alongside an eight-pound baby boy. I know how to fight. I know how to fight a man. And I won’t win, but I know how to fight.

Is this how you die, Jasmin? Is this it? Are you walking down the street? You haven’t finished your book. That is the one thing you wanted to leave. Your book. For the next you. So they may get a few extra years. Maybe 40.

“Let me look up my address,” I say as I open my phone. 

I have to try and finish the book I’m writing before they kill me. I’m not sure where to look. 

My client is coming, and they will kill her too. And then her children will have no mother. All because I decided to walk to work. I pull down the search menu, and the Amazon icon appears. If I can just give them these letters and numbers, maybe they will let me live. Officer Rosales seems placated by my searching. He waves off the other officer, and I slowly navigate to my last order, a macrame cord and a plant grow light. Because I am such a dangerous gardener. There are the numbers, in the order details. I might live. I say the number and street name out loud. They sound right.

Officer Rosales writes the information down, and then tells me that my zip code is 90804. “Just so you know,” he says. 

The number sounds wrong. It’s not my zip code, but I don’t dare contradict him.


On January 23rd, the city of Long Beach finally shuts off gas service to Restauration, after Dana Tanner’s two-month violation of in-person dining bans, after numerous phone calls and complaints levied against her by community members. One local resident, a fifty-one-year-old former college professor who owns a home very close to Restauration, says she has contacted her congressperson, the city attorney’s office, the health department, and Tanner herself in an effort to keep Restauration’s reckless patrons away from her home and neighborhood. Some of her weekly calls and letters have gone completely unanswered. She lives with her husband, who is immunocompromised, and remarked that she doesn’t “…take shit…and Long Beach is a city of shit and pretending…” She says she now has a very low opinion of local government. 

“Can I have my ticket and license please?” I ask.

Officer Rosales says something about me signing the ticket. And he wants to hand me a pen. A maskless man with a gun who thinks his helmet is protecting me from his carelessness wants me to take his pen.

Officer Rosales says something about me signing the ticket. That it’s not an admission of guilt. And he wants to hand me a pen. A maskless man with a gun who thinks his helmet is protecting me from his carelessness wants me to take his pen. I have to finish my book. So someone can get forty years. How old was Sandra? Am I older than Sandra? I take the pen and quickly make a mark and hand it back to him. He holds the mark up to his body camera, as if to say “this person didn’t follow directions.” As if a half a million people aren’t dead, as if touching an item that he maybe puts in his disgusting mouth isn’t as life-threatening as his standard-issue Glock.

“Give me my license,” I say, and what I mean is “if you’re going to let me live, then let me live!” 

He returns it, and I walk away. I call my client to tell her not to come. “I need to run off some of the anger before I can see the children,” I say, as though running is a clinical prescription for misogyny and dehumanization. And then I run. And run. And when there are no cars coming, I run across streets and curse the orange hand and forget to breathe and I keep running. I run like Emmet Till. Like Jackie Joyner-Kersee in the summer of 1992. Like Michael Brown. Like ten-year-old me used to when I raced my brother. To prove that I have a place. That I have value. That this body is unstoppable anyway. 

I arrive at my client’s house and the world is still backwards. They ask me if there is anything I need, and I break down, tears flowing momentarily before the children enter the room. The kids ask, “What’s wrong?” and their parents origami fold a life-or-death confrontation with the police into a half platitude, half parable. Because Black children deserve protection too, and yet they cannot afford it. I thank the mother for being willing to come. I thank her, and it is not enough. 

Black mothers are always saving everyone. The world is forever gestating within the wombs of Black women, living off of them. 

On my way back from work that day, I run some more. Because I can. Because I escaped with my life. I pass Page Against the Machine Books — a bookshop two doors down from Restauration — and decide to go in. I tell the bookstore’s owner, Chris Giaco, what happened to me, how a cop stopped me for jaywalking at seven this morning and threatened me with arrest. He awkwardly chuckles and says, “You know it’s crazy that you’re saying this happened to you this morning, because a few hours ago I walked outside of the shop and I saw three white kids with skateboards jaywalking. And they were walking in front of a car that had stopped specifically so that they could jaywalk, and who do you think it was who had stopped? It was a police car!”


On January 24th, I walked to the home of a friend who lives near the bookstore. As I passed Restauration, I noticed two police cars out front. I thought, “They finally arrested her. They are finally going to hold her accountable. We will finally be safe from her virus-spreading.” But it turns out that the night before, Tanner was seen in the alley behind her restaurant. A neighbor witnessed her and a second person allegedly tampering with an external gas line outside the building. I have to write the word allegedly because I don’t want this white woman to sue me for the nothing I have over telling the truth about what she “may have” done. Allegedly, a few community members watched an Instagram story posted by Dana Tanner which she captioned with something like “thank God for Home Depot and a contractor who’s willing to work at night.” Allegedly, it included an image of a shopping cart, complete with a gas hose.


The day that I walked past, the gas company and police were investigating reports of an “overwhelming smell of gas.” They found that an unauthorized gas line had been installed. They removed it. Tanner is now facing misdemeanor charges over this gas line.

After talking to several people in Retro Row/Alamitos Beach, the Long Beach neighborhood that I’ve decided to call home, I become even more worried about how race and class determine which rules apply to whom.

After talking to several people in Retro Row/Alamitos Beach, the Long Beach neighborhood that I’ve decided to call home, I become even more worried about how race and class determine which rules apply to whom. I talk to business owners up and down this 4th Street corridor, to my neighbors and fellow community members, and they paint me an eerily similar picture to the place I left. They echo the racism and classism that I fled in search of a more peaceful life. 

One business owner recalls an incident in early January, when a Restauration patron — a woman who announced that she was waiting for a table at the eatery, which was operating in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order — walked maskless into her establishment. The patron browsed the shop, complimenting items for sale before saying she’d come back after eating. When the business owner informed her that to return she’d have to wear a face covering, as is currently required in LA County, the patron replied, “You know, people are really freaking out about that. Are you freaking out about that?”

As she recounts this story to me, the business owner also explains that she and her husband both contracted COVID-19 over the holidays. She had just stopped relying on her inhaler the week before this patron walked into her store. Two of her uncles had died of COVID-19, and at the time of the encounter, her father-in-law had been hospitalized with COVID-19 for two weeks.

“I’m not freaking out about it, but I am being responsible,” the business-owner told the patron. 

The patron argued that masks are just as dangerous, that you can’t breathe in them, and they’re dirty. The business owner attempted to appeal to this woman’s humanity and admitted that two of her uncles died of COVID-19, that her husband’s father was currently fighting for his life.

“Are you sure it was COVID that killed them?” the patron taunted. 

When I ask another business owner about Tanner and Restauration, they get right to the point:

“We could have all been blown up!” 

Gas Lines…

I decide to visit the Long Beach Fire Department. I put on my straightest-looking clothes and walk to the station nearest to Restauration, on Loma at 4th. They will be able to tell me the truth about the risk involved in tampering with gas lines. I ring the bell. After a time, three firefighters open the door. 

“Hi, I’m trying to get some information about gas lines, and I was wondering if the fire department would be the right place to talk to about that.” 

They prompt me to continue with my question. 

“So I live up the street, and there is a restaurant there that has recently been charged with trying to tap into a neighboring gas line, and we’re all afraid and concerned that it could happen again. So our question is ‘What happens if they try to do it again? Are we all going to get blown up?’” 

One firefighter says that from what he understands, it was the neighbor to the restaurant who installed the extra gas line for the owner without her knowledge. 

I stress that who did it wasn’t my question. I’m asking if there are safety concerns. Are we going to blow up? 

The same firefighter responds, “No, there are no safety concerns.” 

“Okay, so they don’t have to call and shut it off through the gas company?” “No, actually, it’s legal for a resident to tap into their line and give it to someone else…” More stuff about the law; more attention taken away from the question I asked about safety. “So they don’t have to shut it off? We’re not in danger?” 

“No,” he says. 

I’ve never felt more certain that I was being lied to in my life. 

Los Angeles Sheriffs Department Deputies
Moments before opening fire on protesters. Photo by Geoff Cordner.

I walk past Restauration on my way home. It is open. There’s a menu posted in a glass box to the left of a dilapidated wooden gate leading to the back patio. I’ve heard they’re using an electric hot plate and an electric fryer to cook. I want to poison all of the food inside so that the city will finally protect the neighborhood from this woman’s poisonous audacity. I write this knowing that if someone does get food poisoning, they will charge me with a crime, and Dana Tanner will continue to sit behind her bar, aging poorly and spreading ignorance like a New Year’s Eve open-bar bottle of vodka. 

I call local licensed contractors. They deal with permits and gas lines everyday. Surely, they can provide me with a straight answer about the gas line. 

They all say the same thing. And it’s the same thing that is printed on the Upcodes website under the “California plumbing codes 2016” header. The same things I read on “Socalgas.com” and “Longbeach.gov.” One contractor in particular tells me that the city won’t even let a person pull a permit to tap into a neighbor’s external gas line. 

“It’s illegal,” says the contractor. “That’s why they shut them down and that’s why they removed it.” 

I follow up to make sure I understand. “So, you need a permit for that?” 

“Oh yeah, to run gas lines like that? Sure…they’re not going through the city to do it…they’re just doing it on their own.” He walks me through the difference between residential and commercial properties, the steps that one has to take to ensure safety. He explains that while you don’t have to hire a contractor to do the work, you still have to pull a permit through the city because they will inspect it.

He adds that there’s even a way to shut off the gas locally outside of anyone’s house, so as to avoid potential gas leaks, that “…you’d be really stupid if you worked on gas with gas coming through it…that would be…a real situation.” I probe the contractor for specifics about the ramifications of working on an open gas line, and he says “yeah, you could have explosions…it depends on how much gas, that’s the thing…it may have been a small enough leak to where there wasn’t explosive danger…you need quite a bit of gas in a small space with a spark and everything else to really set it off, ya know?”

This is the frank discussion I have been after, the one I expected from the firefighters at Loma, the one they sidestepped with bullshit legal specificities. The contractor goes on to express his opinion about how bureaucracy works. “Listen, the dollar is more important than the person…” I thank the man for his time and expertise and I hang up. I shouldn’t be surprised. I shouldn’t be this angry at what I should have already known, but I am.

The article tells the story of Long Beach Officer Miguel Rosales’ arrest on suspicion of abusing his wife. I’ll bet his wife talks too much, asks too many questions, acts too much like an “intelligent lady.”

Later, I look more closely at the jaywalking ticket. It says that I am five feet, seven inches tall, that I am a hundred and twenty-five pounds, and there is a “B” penned into a box labeled “race.” Officer Rosales and I have the same complexion. He may even be darker than I am. My name is Jasmin Roberts. My driver’s license does not have “race” printed on it. Officer Rosales has labeled me Black.

It turns out that in Long Beach, California, jaywalking is an “infraction.” I can be fined up to $250 and arrested. If I contest the infraction, I will be arraigned, and asked to plead “guilty” or “not guilty,” and a court date will be set. For walking. This is what the man with the gun and the badge and the internalized white supremacy was incapable of explaining to me; the man who insulted my intelligence and harassed me for walking and endangered my life with his ignorant breath and his helmet and his dirty pen.

Searching the terms “Officer Miguel Rosales” and “Long Beach” turns up an article published in the Press Telegram in 2007. The article tells the story of Long Beach Officer Miguel Rosales’ arrest on suspicion of abusing his wife during an argument. She was reported to have a bloody nose and a three-inch scratch on her calf when police responded to the family’s home on a domestic violence call. I’ll bet his wife talks too much, asks too many questions, acts too much like an “intelligent lady.”


Dana Tanner seems to have a lot of ideas about COVID-19 and the financial state of the restaurant industry. She doesn’t seem to believe that closing restaurants for dine-in service will save lives. Or maybe not enough lives, or not lives she cares about. So Restauration remains open, and a threat to an already ravaged community persists.

I have ideas too. I don’t believe in standing on a street corner waiting for a light to change when I can rely on my eyes and ears to tell me what is and isn’t dangerous. So when there are no cars coming, I cross the street. 

Tanner seems to believe that her life and the lives of her few employees are more important than the ones that might be saved by the restrictions. 

I believe I have the right to walk down the street. 

Actual violence is chimeric. It is not always loud and bloody. Every moment after a white woman calls her caucasity a protest is violence. Five hundred thousand people are dead from COVID-19. That, too, is violence. 

I don’t have $250 to give the police for walking across an empty street. And even if I did, even if pandemic unemployment assistance actually assisted me, I wouldn’t give $250 to pay a ticket written by a man who was breaking the law, endangering my life, and harassing me as he scribbled said ticket. That is the limit of my participation in whiteness, the edge of my sanity. So once again, I am an outlaw. And I will be criminalized and told that my body is violent. That my existence is violence. 

Actual violence is chimeric. It is not always loud and bloody. There is not always a visually grotesque monster to point to. Violence is part stillness. The moments before flesh is torn are violence too. The audacity is violence. For too long a Black body walking down the street has been miscalculated. White women have been the ones deemed worthy and in need of protection, but often they are the violence themselves. 

Every moment after a white woman calls her caucasity a protest is violence. The drowned out voices of a community held hostage by ignorance and greed and an electric fryer —  that is violence too. 

Five hundred thousand people are dead from COVID-19. That, too, is violence. 

Black bodies in motion are mistaken for blades when in reality, violence is pieces of paper, is a box with a B in it, and a dirty pen. Violence is a white woman offering an open bar on a patio in a city where firefighters give soundbites instead of answers and pandemic death looms heavier than the smog and hydrogen sulfide. Violence is calling for back-up for a one-hundred-and twenty-five-pound person with a question, is only ever feeling that you are right because you have called someone else wrong. Violence is a man with a badge and a gun saying “let me talk to you for a second,” when what he really means is “how dare you exist so freely in front of me?!” Society is always ready to call us uncivilized for ushering in the sounds of violence. We are always portrayed as carrying the rage. The rage was here when we arrived; the violence does not belong to us. We are simply unwilling to die quietly. If you are going to kill me, if I do not even get to die on my own terms, then I will grab onto the very last thing that has not been taken from me, and I will be loud and vulgar, and you will hear me as I go.


Jasmin Roberts is a queer trans writer and activist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, now living in southern California. They are an alumnus of Oberlin College, and hold a graduate degree in Developmental Psychology from UMass Amherst. Jasmin is active in the queer youth community, leads youth and adult workshops on intersectionality & art as activism. Jasmin has competed in poetry slams at the national level, and placed 4th overall at the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam competition. Jasmin’s work has been published in I Can Count To 10 and Rattle, and in video form on YouTube with SlamFind, PSI, and Button Poetry.