Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Sometime in the early 1980s I accidentally became "one of those out-of-town protestors." If you keep reading, you'll see the story unfold through my memory alone - I intentionally didn't search online to find the details (although I will when I'm finished writing) - I just wanted to remember. And what I remember most, and hope never to forget, is that her name was Marilyn Banks.
In my early 20s, recently out of college, I was working with the non-profit organization Double Helix. I don't think that KDHX was on the radio yet, and cable TV hadn't arrived in any part of St. Louis. The staff and board members were the ideal urban melting pot of races, ages, education, and income levels. Everyone was creative and idealistic and energetic; I recall a group of individuals who probably never fit in to other groups, thereby becoming a group in which everyone was welcome. We were all working together to put that independant voice back on the airwaves of St. Louis.
Then came a call from the independent radio station in Kansas City, MO. A white police officer shot and killed a black woman. (African-American was not in common usage at that time, so I'm not going to use it here.) The station was involved in planning a peaceful protest, and would we join them? Of course we would, and a group of us piled into cars and took off on I-70 for a day of road trip and marching/chanting. The KC station had signs ready for the volunteers, and probably pizza or subs for lunch (yes, the protest was a catered affair); all we had to do was show up and show our support for a grieving and outraged community.
To the best of my recollection, here's what happened in Kansas City: a black woman about my own age was sitting on her front stoop playing with her two young children. Suddenly a young black man sped past, pursued by the white officer. He fired his gun at the man, and accidentally killed Marilyn Banks. Frankly I don't remember if the young man were armed and shooting also, nor what the chase was about, nor if the officer ever caught up with him. I'm sure I knew at the time we protested, but that has slipped away from what was important to me. The protest was to urge an indictment against the officer, and no, I don't remember his name.
At the given time we left the radio station, and marched to the appointed gathering place, signs raised high over our heads, chants filling the air. We were, again, a melting pot of people. There were rousing speeches, more chanting, some singing, more speeches, and then everyone slowly drifted away in small bunches. It was almost like a converging of tent revival meeting and political rally. I'm sure there were police in force, but since I top 5'1" if I really stand up straight, crowds are tough for me; at any rate, I didn't notice them especially. We said good-bye to our new KC friends, and went back to St. Louis.
I remember keeping pretty quiet about the events because I didn't believe the officer should have been indicted for murder. Then and now I don't believe the officer killed Marilyn Banks on purpose. I think it was a tragic accident. I think about a young woman's life ended too soon. I think about 2 children growing up without a mother. I think about a young man who will always have her death on his mind. I think about another young man who ought to have her death on his mind. I think about a community that came together for a few hours of shared emotions and ideas and rage and grief and reflection and prayer and support.
But I have never forgotten her name was Marilyn Banks.