Dear United States, YOUR Police System and those who are not Black in America,
I came home today once again to tell my 13 year old black son about yet another death by the hands of the cops – another death of another black person. I could barely get the words out without crying but this couldn’t be sugar coated from him like I normally sweeten other information I feed him. So, let me tell you what a black single mother had to tell her son today or pretty much every time the need strikes, which is often. I had to tell my 13 year old young black son how to not get killed in these streets by those sent out to protect us.
The first thing is the reminder that although he has white friends, he needs to remember that: “You are not your white friends!!! If you are with them and you all get stopped by the cops for any reason know that you are not them, you cannot say what they say or act how they act. There is a high chance the police may single you out as the trouble maker whether you had anything to do with it so be prepared. Remember to keep your hands out of your pockets; if you are holding your phone drop it and put your hands up or out in front of you where they can be visibly seen free of anything by the cops. If they ask you any questions, answer them with a calm voice, NEVER yell. Tell them your name, age, address, mother’s name and phone number. Know that you are under the age of 16 which means you are not to be questioned without a legal guardian so with that knowledge, give them your mother’s name and phone number again. If they feel the need to pat you down, assume the position I’ve taught you and let them pat you down but be quiet while doing so. Once they have met their goal of whatever the hell it was, if you are not arrested you wait until they have left the area completely then call me. If they arrest you, put your hands up in the air to signal your surrender then let them guide your hands into the cuffs and put you into the police car. You are to remain silent the entire ride to the station – don’t even be angry because there is no need for it especially if you are innocent. Once in the station you give them your mother’s name and number again and inform them that at your age you cannot be questioned without a guardian and/or legal representation. No matter what lies they fill your head with to scare you, know that none of their lies are above the law and the law is what I’ve taught you so do not fear their lies instead give them your mother’s name and phone number again and tell them that once a guardian is present you will answer any and all questions.
After I drill that process into his head we go over him not trying to be a hero when it comes to his other black friends.
That if they are not cooperating with how I’ve shown you to act, you can verbally guide them to the right way but do not put yourself in harm’s way for their behavior. This is not to say that you don’t care about your friends, just that you are not sure what’s to happen and do not want to make matters worse.
Once he understands that part of our discussion which is well into 10 minutes now, we go over his legal rights in depth with the Miranda rights and why they are important. Once he has soaked all of that in and I believe that he understands and knows his rules for survival, I ask him how he feels. I then remind him of my history as a kid growing up in the Chicago projects with drug addicted parents and the violence I’ve witnessed and so on and that none of this is new, it’s just that we now have more witnesses than we did before so it’s in our face more. I cushion his blow so that he understands that this hatred has been around since before he and I were even conceived so do not be afraid of it just be aware of it.
Today I showed him the murder of Alton Sterling. Why? Because I normally hide these images and things from him, I only tell him what happens because we do not watch the news or have regular TV access, we only stream but today I needed him to see what I’ve been telling him about for once so that he truly understands that the rules I lay upon him are not to scare him but to protect him from being an Alton Sterling, or a Tamir Rice; a young boy whose death haunts me every time I think about him. He knows that these things may never come his way but if they do, he is prepared.
When my son was laid on my chest at birth I imagined all of the things he would experience in life and none of those things involved me having to tell him how to live life as a black man so as not to get killed. We watched the movie Boyz-N-The Hood a few weeks ago and when Laurence Fishburne’s character began to give his son, Cuba Gooding Jr.s character that “talk” my son said to me, “So is this why you give me those talks because it’s in movies?” I smiled and I said, “NO, I give them to you because it’s the truth. It just so happen to be in a movie too.” None of those things or such talks crossed my mind at his birth. Never did I think of teaching him the proper way to surrender himself to police officers so as not to get shot or rules for how to act around white people who may perceive him as a threat. My son is a good kid, I raise him well, he has manners and respect but he is a black boy in America and no matter how much of a great man I teach him to be, he will always have ten lashes against him because he is black.
After we have gone over the do’s and don’ts of the streets, I then tell him what he shouldn’t do with this information. I tell him to: NOT hate every white person because there are those who are systemically taught to be racist and then there are those who are not racist at all. Do not live with hatred in your heart for anyone because they do not deserve such a place in your heart; that space is for you. Do not look at your non-black friends with any kind of envy because they do not have to go through what you have to go through instead when they ask questions, teach them your way of living because their parents are not going to. Do not hate who you are or the color of your skin! Most importantly know that our ancestors fought for us to have freedoms and rights for a reason but that the fight is never over – it’s up to us to continue to fight for our right to be in this world like the next person. Remember that no matter the tone of a person’s skin, they have the same heart as you, same brain, bones, and biological construction as you. They are no different than you other than the tone of their skin so you need not see them in any difference than yourself as a human but as a black boy who will grow to be a black man, understand that they see you differently and may hate you just because of your skin but do not let that stop you from becoming the man you know you will be in your heart. Be great anyway.
Those are the discussions I have to have with my 13 year old quite often. It gets hard to tell him to love everybody as equal although he knows they do not see us as equal but I refuse to raise my son with hatred in his heart because change starts at home and hatred hinders growth and growth is change. He will teach his friends and then his children how to live like a human being and he will leave this earth with as pure a heart as he can manage to have. That’s my goal as his parent.
To those who are not black and are so tired of hearing us protest and fight for our rights, I ask you to have the same talk I spelled out for you above with your non-black kid before they go off to school or out to play today. Talk to them about racism against their ethnic group…that is unless you don’t have a reason to do so. We are not sorry for your discomfort in our dissatisfaction with the mistreatment and continued racism and murders against our ethnic group of human beings. We are not sorry and do not plan on apologizing. I am okay with you not giving a damn about our fight – you have that right to not care however If you ever find yourself wanting to care, please join in the fight because it’s not just black people you are fighting to protect, it’s people – people who your children will have to grow up with or possibly see killed or maybe even love one day.
I am a parent and my worst fear is not my son flunking a grade or having his heart broken by his first love or even doing drugs, my fear is him being killed by a cop, a racist, a gang member or by anyone for the color of his skin. That is the fear that cripples me when I see him leave to go outside or I can’t reach him by phone or whenever he is not with me. If you cannot relate to our issues……that’s very fortunate for you. It’s okay to have a seat while we stand, you will not be invisible – we still see you – the question is, do you see us?
So after I write this another murder happens and there I was talking to my son about Philando Castile who was murdered not far from where I go to have lunch on break at work. I knew Philando as a kid, we were neighbors and our moms were good friends. I’d not seen him in 20 years but there he was, being killed right in front of me. I’d just told my child to comply with the cops and then we watch a man who did comply murdered in cold blood. Together we stood in the kitchen and he cried with his chest held high as I reassured him that this is not his fate. I then give him the stats that cops have killed 559 people so far this year with 111 being black (stats may be off) so he sees that cops are killing all kinds of people and not just his kind. I tried my hardest to make him see that with the rules I’ve given him he can survive interactions with cops but he wasn’t feeling it. He said, “Why have cops killed so many people in general? They aren’t taught to kill people, they should be protecting us. He (Philando) did everything right so why was he still killed?” I then proceeded to go over with my son the steps the cop should have taken in that situation so that he understands how it was supposed to happen to ensure the safety of everyone in that car. I am not an officer of the law but I knew the law to tell my son although he watched a video with the law clearly not being enforced. What the hell do I say now?
I still pressed into his mind that he shall not harbor hatred towards anyone for what we are seeing unfold because that hatred will fill his heart with darkness and ruin his purity. Of the four times I’ve had a loaded pistol aimed at my head; I remember fondly those moments and who caused them, I remember the many nights sleeping on the floor in Chicago because of gun fire so we wouldn’t get struck by a stray bullet, I remember it all but I have no hatred in my heart for anyone that caused those memories because change starts in the heart and at home and I will push that message to my son until he pushes it into his own children. He knows that we can still fight our fight while loving every single being equally no matter how they feel about us.