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I’m a Maryland born-and-raised organizer, comic book lover, and troublemaker. “Mumble Sauce” is a City Paper summer pop-up column containing my musings about how Black communities find healing in the face of gentrification, displacement, policing, prisons, and jails.
Even though mainstream society tells me I shouldn’t, I have a lot of pride in my Blackness and my queerness. As such, there are a few things you’ll notice about my work. I always capitalize the word “Black” as it relates to race. This is to show respect for and significance to Blackness. I prioritize uplifting stories of women, femmes, and LGBTQIA+ people. We’re too often ignored and left in the shadows. Finally, I love me some counterculture. The column got its name because I love both mumble rap and mumbo sauce. Oppressed people should be free to uplift their cultures and attitudes—we shouldn’t have to conform to mainstream social norms in order to deserve respect.
The struggle is real, but the resistance keeps my perspective rose-colored. Hope radiates from all the DMV-based people working to heal and build up communities. Their stories challenge us to ask important questions about surviving and thriving in unjust societies. How do we restore what we lose—mentally and physically—from oppression? How do we create alternate worlds where we’re all guaranteed safety and fulfillment? “Mumble Sauce” is a space where I’ll explore the discrimination facing Black folks in the D.C. area, along with the creative ways we’re overcoming it.
To create a liberated world, you’ve got to have a little imagination. My heart gets light when I think about how Black DMV communities use art, food, and turning up to heal themselves. Most of my columns will share those stories, but my first column will shine light on the state violence we’re healing from in the first place.
Don’t underestimate the power of the Mid-Atlantic’s humidity. It only takes one summer in the DMV to learn that it gets hot.
Growing up in the Maryland suburbs, summertime meant staining everything with colorful polka dots from my sticky fingers, playing with my grandmother’s hand fan collection, and sweating that never seemed to stop once it started. My shins produced an obscene amount of sweat throughout my childhood. By the time May rolled around each year, shin perspiration would mark the front of the khakis of my school uniform as if I’d spent lunchtime wading through high tides. If my skin wasn’t so brown, I would’ve had a perpetual blush flushed across my cheeks from the embarrassment.
Hot means many things. There’s temperature—the weather right now, or how our faces rush with heat when we’re flustered. And there’s mood—getting hot with anger and rage, or with attraction.
There’s also slang. There’s hot as in obvious, the warning you’ll get from a friend when your efforts to do some undercover act will be easily observable (“Don’t light that jay right now, it’s hot.”) There’s also hot as in the block is hot, an alert that cops are present on the street (“The block is hot, run!”)
All of these definitions converge during D.C. summers.
In May, Anthony Lorenzo Green, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 7, lamented that police brutality would make it a “hot summer” in D.C., retweeting footage of an officer shoving a Black person in Southeast. This term is a reference to the “long, hot summer” of 1967. That year, over 150 uprisings ignited across the U.S. in response to police brutality against Black communities. Green—and the Black Lives Matter DC activists who jumped to his defense—received the ire of many officers for his statement. But police violence in the DMV could make this proclamation come true.
There always seems to be a spike in police brutality this time of year. Last summer was a particularly harsh season. Police officers in the DMV killed four Black people between May and June 2018. All of the victims’ families are still searching for answers.
First was 22-year-old Jeffrey Price. He was riding his motorcycle in May 2018 when, according to his family and their attorney, Metropolitan Police Department officers started pursuing him in their cruisers. He died after colliding with a cruiser that pulled out in front of him, cutting off his path. His family and the ACLU are now suing the department for searching his mother’s backyard without a warrant shortly after Price’s death. 24-year-old D’Quan Young also lost his life in May 2018. An off-duty officer fatally shot him in front of a neighborhood recreation center. The officer will not face charges, and MPD has refused to identify him. A few weeks after that, a Montgomery County police officer stopped 41-year-old Robert White as he was walking in his neighborhood and shot him to death for being “combative.” A day later, MPD officers shot and killed 24-year-old Marqueese Alston near his home in Northeast D.C. They reportedly fired 18 shots.
Then there’s this summer. In mid-June 2019, cellphone video from a resident who goes by Soup Visions LLC captured an officer saying that Mayor Muriel Bowser directs cops to target wards 7 and 8. Around the same time, video of police intimidating a group of Black teenagers made its way around Twitter after being shared by Black Lives Matter DC. There’s also photographic evidence of officers walking through Barry Farm during a neighborhood event while openly carrying their guns, one of which appears to be an assault-style rifle. It feels like there’s new footage circulating on social media every few days. Imagine what happens when the cameras are off.
The block is truly hot. While the D.C. government increases investments in police, Black people are still being killed. Safe and stable housing is still hard to find. Hospitals serving Black communities keep getting shut down. Gun violence still harms our neighborhoods. Families in predominantly Black wards have trouble accessing grocery stores and healthy food. People don’t feel safe, and how could they? When over 1,300 police officers in the Metropolitan Police Department used force in 2018? When 90 percent of those incidents were against Black people?
D.C.’s summer anthem is the discontented roar echoing through the streets. Right before summer came around, Black folks and supporters created #DontMuteDC after a white Shaw resident threatened to sue over a local Black-owned phone and music store that plays go-go music outside of the shop. Organizers and musicians involved with #DontMuteDC later birthed Moechella, a go-go concert and protest starring the historic Backyard Band. The May 2019 Moechella demonstration drew an audience so big that the crowd blocked off the entire intersection of 14th and U streets NW. #DontMuteDC has grown to represent a broader movement against gentrification and displacement. Street art, public forums, and concerts have continued in the weeks since.
Turn-up-as-protest isn’t the only way people are responding to the sweltering heat, and many collectives have been doing this work regardless of the season. Neighborhood organizers at ONE DC fight against displacement of Black D.C. residents and connect people with healing and educational resources. Black youth activists at Black Swan Academy advocate for moving away from policing and investing in mental health care, community violence intervention, and affordable housing instead. Formerly incarcerated Black women organizers at Life After Release bail Black mothers and caregivers out of jail and provide them with support. There are also Black people at BYP100 DC, where I volunteer. We facilitate workshops to advocate for less policing and more investment in resources, we engage in direct actions to end state violence, and we create art to uplift perspectives of Black people in D.C. And these are only a few examples of the collectives shaking things up in the District.
People are also advocating for Black communities on the legislative level. In June 2019, Councilmember Robert C. White introduced a bill to the D.C. Council that would give voting rights to people who are incarcerated. Given that 86 percent of people arrested in D.C. are Black, this legislation could elevate the perspectives of many Black voices that have been silenced for far too long.
The same month, the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition—a collective I’m involved with—joined At-Large Councilmembers David Grosso, Robert C. White, Anita Bonds, and Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau to introduce a bill that would decriminalize sex work in the District. Sex workers and advocates cite rampant police violence against Black and brown people in the sex trades as one of the primary reasons why sex work should be decriminalized. Many sex workers are Black and brown trans and cis women, trans men, and nonbinary people who enter the sex trades after experiencing abuse or discrimination in housing and employment. Policing people in the sex trades doesn’t help them. But providing them with access to resources would.
Local activists and organizers have called for decreased policing and increased access to resources for a long time. This isn’t D.C.’s first heat wave. While the heightened attention on these issues is promising, are these efforts Black D.C.’s rallying cry or our death rattle? So many people have been harmed and displaced over the past few decades, and so many lives have been lost because of the lack of safety for Black people in the DMV. We’ve lost two young Black trans women, Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears, to gun violence over the last couple of months. Will things change? Will the heat consume us, or will we use the heat’s energy to transform our surroundings?
The moment I go outside during the summertime, I long for another shower. A film of moisture and hot pavement dust collects on my skin, a blinding, oily sheen spreads across my forehead, and sweat stings my eyes. I’ve been trying to navigate the physical and emotional discomfort that summer can bring since I was a child. It’s been 25 years, and while I’m still not quite sure how we’ll all make it through the oppressive heat of the DMV summer, I do know that we won’t stop trying.