I Did Not Know Summer Taylor, But I Know Their Power

by Sarah Stuteville

I did not know Summer Taylor. And Seattle is a small town at its heart, so I knew them the way I sort of know everyone here through a few degrees of separation — a housemate who worked with them at a doggy daycare, a shared neighborhood, the unconfirmed possibility they helped my flea-bitten cat a few months ago.

I did not know Summer Taylor. And the internet is a strange hall of mirrors where we reflect each other in tricky ways that can feel like “knowing.” Summer jokes about parkour in a grainy video, smiles gleefully up to the left corner of our phone screens and dances the Cupid Shuffle on I-5 free of the terrible knowledge we viewers hold — that there is a car speeding toward them just a few minutes out of frame. 

I did not know Summer Taylor. And like any death infused with more meaning than one tragedy can hold, I see them everywhere. My former college students, my fellow protesters, my future grown children, and myself twenty years ago when I first felt the explosive, life-changing power of direct action in the streets of downtown Seattle.

On Tuesday I walked down to where Summer — and fellow protestor Diaz Love, who is recovering in the hospital — were hit by a car that sped the wrong way onto a closed section of freeway via an unguarded offramp. 

With the CHOP gone and daily protests on the wane, I didn’t know where else to go with the achy restlessness I felt. I followed the “ACAB” and “BLM” graffiti down East Olive Way and stood on the overpass I had identified from news coverage. 

I watched traffic speed over a giant “Defund the Police” in spray-painted yellow and past a list of the protesters’ demands: “Defund SPD by 50%, Invest in Black communities, Free all protestors and No youth jail.” I lingered hoping someone else might recognize the sanctity of the spot but had only the company of a traffic cop yelling into his cell phone at his kid (who had apparently lost their iPad privileges). 

Lonely, I rambled to lower Queen Anne looking for a small memorial that had recently bloomed at Counterbalance Park. As I picked through Twitter for the correct address, I was careful to avoid the vicious trolls and bad-faith comment threads inevitably blaming Summer for their own death — liberals and conservatives alike who pretend they’d be all for dismantling white supremacy if only these protestors would be better behaved. As though well-behaved protests ever dismantled anything but momentum. 

The strange little gravel park was empty but for one other person, a Black man named Sean who came over and asked me if I’d known Summer personally. A fellow writer, he was looking for a job and we chatted obliquely about the layered horror of the world, squinting at each other over our masks in the white-gray eye-watering light of a muggy overcast Seattle afternoon.

“What do you think about what is going on?” I asked, fishing for a political conversation. “I think a lot has always been going on,” he responded, and then gestured to the neon poster board with heart-shaped messages behind us before adding, “But when it touches near your home you see it.” 

Sean’s words stayed with me as I made my way home for the evening. I drove by the intersections near the East Precinct where 16-year-old Antonio Mays Jr. and 19-year-old Horace Lorenzo Anderson Jr. were killed in separate shooting incidents in the waning days of the occupation there. 

As I passed, I wondered about the CHOP memorial to “those killed in the George Floyd Rebellion,” curious if the collage of mostly Black and Brown faces still rustled in the now empty street. I slowed to take in a few lingering murals of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, whose murders lit the match atop this teetering tower of powder kegs that we call a nation. 

Sean was right. None of this violence is new — it is just being revealed to new audiences. And any attempt at laying guilt for these lost lives at the foot of this uprising is to willfully ignore the bloody lineage their deaths share and to miss the very point of this movement. Violence is America’s normal. Attempts to challenge that normal, and the racist, sexist, and classist systems it upholds will be met with violence. No matter how protesters behave. No matter how “innocent” or “guilty” its victims. 

I did not know Summer Taylor, but I suspect Summer Taylor knew this truth and felt their power in it. May they rest in that power.

Sarah Stuteville is a writer, memoirist, educator, and non-profit media consultant currently pursuing a Masters in Mental Health Counseling at Seattle University. She taught journalism and media production at the University of Washington. Feminism, journalism, motherhood, relationships, and mental health are subjects of Sarah’s writings. Sarah has reported from over a dozen countries in the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. She wrote a social justice issue column for the Seattle Times. Her memoir writing has been published in Mutha where her piece “No One Is Watching” was one of the most read on the site all year.  Her piece “Windstorm” won “Honorable Mention” in the Hunger Mountain Nonfiction Writing Contest; “A Girl’s History of Consent” was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Awards. She also helped to co-found The Seattle Globalist, a non-profit journalism organization that trains diverse media makers.

Featured image by Vlad Verano.