While some mothers will be receiving gifts from their children this Mother's Day, many will be mourning the deaths of sons killed by police.
Valerie Bell's son, Sean Bell, was 23 years old and celebrating his wedding day in 2006 when New York City police officers in plainclothes fired 50 shots into his car, believing that his friend was armed, and killed him and severely wounded his friends. Everyone in the car was unarmed. The officers involved in the shooting were all acquitted.
Valerie Bell explained in the Huffington Post this week that it's hard for her to celebrate on Mother's Day, because she feels "the absence of my 23-year-old son." So instead, she wrote, she and other mothers are taking part in the Million Moms March this weekend to call for an end to police killings:
This year we are taking back the original intention of Mother's Day: a day founded for mothers to stand up together to make collective demands. After the Civil War and the economic turmoil that followed, American abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, horrified by the wars and devastation of her time, penned a proclamation to mothers everywhere:
"Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause," she wrote. "Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience... From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm!"
Howe called on women to "promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
It's now a century after the founding of Mother's Day, and our sons are still being taken from us. Society has not disarmed, but militarized to the teeth. Mothers' sons everywhere are still killing and being killed. We have had enough.
Bell's call to action is timely as other protests continue across the country over racial disparities in police use of force and the criminal justice system. The high-profile police killings of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Eric Garner in New York City, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past year have brought many of these issues to the forefront of media coverage and political battles.
But as the death of Bell's son nine years ago demonstrates, these issues have been going on for much longer. It's not just Gray, Garner, and Brown that have fostered anger toward police killings — it's the hundreds of others who have been killed by police in the past few decades in a way that many feel is unjust and racially biased.
"When will things change?" Bell asked. "As a mother, I feel that it is my responsibility to help others — to support other mothers whose children have also fallen victim to police violence, to be a voice for my son, Sean Bell."