Growing up when I played house never did it include a hospital visit or funeral. I was not raised with a fear of my family being killed violently, but every report of a man getting gunned down with victim blaming to follow cripples me. Now some will say it’s my fault. I married outside my race. That argument is not valid in any way shape or form. I married a strong, proud man and I am raising the same I’m just afraid I’m setting my son up because I wasn’t raised in a world where going outside was dangerous even in the best of neighborhoods.
For those who know me, met me or read me at some point probably determined I’m spoiled. I am. No reason denying it. I was the youngest of a newly formed family being spoiled by older siblings. The little pretty princess who everyone wanted to teach new things and play with. What can I say I was frickin’ adorable when I was kid. As I got older my parents had already gotten over the new kid over protective gotta save them from air that all of us with kids understand. I was left to my own devices for quite a few of life’s experiences. There was little to be nervous about except my curfew.
If I were to get in trouble find a police officer. They were your friend and would protect you. When I started to drive I was taught ways of being around police. Have your overhead light on and your window down when the officer walks up so he/she has a comfort level with you. Be apologetic, you know what you’ve done, apologize before they even tell you what you did. Be respectful.
These rules were put into place to help me get out of tickets. No other reason. Never in my life did I fear a police officer hurting me. I’m not doing anything wrong why would I worry. I was a hundred pound skinny white girl. Not really a threat.
Moving into adulthood I got married and we had a son. When we would be out, like my mother had with me I prompted my son to smile and wave if we came across a police officer. My husband bristled a bit, but tried to keep his unease to himself or at least away from my son. My husband worked around police officers almost daily. He worked in the corrections end of law enforcement and took shifts as the doorman at clubs downtown. He also was a black man raised in Mississippi and told to afraid of “those folks”.
Between his race, height and girth there were times if he didn’t humble himself to make a man a foot shorter and few hundred pounds lighter his appearance could become a death sentence. Unlike white men he couldn’t verbally discuss a ticket with an officer. He was to sit, take it and stay silent. He couldn’t joke, like I could if I got pulled over, because it might be considered mocking by the officer. He couldn’t reach for his ID while I was allowed to be digging in a bag for mine as a cop approached my window. His tone had to be metered and he had to determine in a split second if he was allowed to talk or if it was better to stay silent or worse yet if his silence was a threat.
Now my son is preparing to be a licensed driver and I have to go over rules I don’t even understand. They are being decided following every news story and yet, seem meaningless once the next one hits the news cycle. Will my son get pulled over and his natural defiance for authority kick in? We raised our son to be a proud man and I told him the police were his friends. Only in America right now you can’t be a proud man if you are black. That pride comes across as threatening or defiant. Born white this was not the world I was raised in. This is not a fear I understand yet it washes over me daily. When I grew up there was right and wrong and right won out. I’m married to a college graduate, I’m currently raising an honor student-athlete and yet every time they are outside of my house I have to fight through crippling fear.
Having married a mutant (the husband is seven foot, not an exaggeration, and a former lineman who is protective by nature.) I gave birth to a mutant. Barely sixteen, but has been man sized for the past three years. Broad shouldered with a sweet smile and the same protective nature as his father. Both are proud men, but one has had to tamp that down after run ins with the police and I thank God he has because I still have in my life.
My fear is not unfounded. My husband has had a gun held to his head, not by a police officer, but community corrections officer that for some reason had lights in his car and pulled my husband over in an unmarked vehicle. Why unmarked? Because he was a parole officer not a police officer. He doesn’t have the right to write a citation for speeding, not using his blinker or any other traffic violation. Seeing my husband’s size and race his immediate reaction was to pull his weapon and hold it on my husband because he was sure his “erratic” driving was due to some felony he was avoiding. In truth my husband was late picking our son up from the half day school program he was at. If my husband would have known this man wasn’t a state patrolman he would never pulled over. Now an untrained glorified parole office had him at gunpoint. It wasn’t until he saw my husband’s uniform in the back seat did he back down, return to his vehicle and took off without so much as giving him a card or apologizing for putting his life in danger on the side of an interstate. It took my husband over an hour to calm down enough as people at my son’s school tried to console him and keep my son away so he didn’t see is father breaking down. He could have been killed in that moment and what would they say? Who would have helped him? Would he have been described as another “violent” perpetrator? Would I have had to raise my son on my own? How could I tell my son the cops were good when someone with a badge killed his father?
Having been raised white and that cops where good (again this guy wasn’t a cop, but he was employed by the state as an officer) I told my husband to file a gun charge against the man with the police. Tell them what happened. This couldn’t be legal. A white man had forced him to the side of a public interstate, held a gun to his head and even threatened to shoot. Although a special investigator was sent out and they found the man had even radioed in he was talked to about the interstate being state patrol’s jurisdiction. No change was made. No charge was brought for pulling a weapon. He kept his job. No lawsuit, civil or otherwise was filed because there was no way to get this armed man who pulled a gun on my husband and held it to his head to lose his badge or even his gun that he wielded recklessly.
Then another time he was pulled over with three different cars. Held and told his story didn’t matter even though he was telling the same as one of the others that the third vehicle had been driving recklessly and they were trying to get away from him. It was a road rage incident and my husband was told to sit like a damn child and be still because his voice didn’t matter as three sets of officers all kept their hands resting on the butts of their guns. My husband’s voice has trained all over the country in corrections and other fields on how to defuse situations, conflict management and cognitive behavior change. I’d say he wrote the book on it, but he actually WROTE the updated book with the changes implemented to the processes after years of working in the field. His voice didn’t matter because his voice came from a black man. He was deemed a threat in a situation caused by an outraged white man for a slight made on the road. And before you say it, no my husband hadn’t cut him off, flipped him off, etc, he was trying to get to a lane that was safe on the highway and was pulled over in mass with the others. Who ever upset this white driver to the point he was putting others lives in danger was not in the group of cars stopped.
Has every interaction my husband had with cops been bad? Not in the least. Does every cop see him as a threat because of size and race? Nope, but how can he tell by looking at them which are good and which are bad? Can we have them start wearing signs like rookie not much field experience or blames black men for dropping his house value or suffering from PTSD? No we can’t, but we can insist on more training before they are put on the streets. Additional training in de-escalations tactics. Not punish a police officer who uses those instead of deadly force. When did deadly force become the first option and not the last? Has it always been this way and the twenty four hour instant media world is just letting us know it? Remember I wasn’t raised to fear the men who were supposed to protect us.
How can I as a wife and mother send my family out into the world when one wrong word or scratch to an itchy nose could end their life? Not only would they take my family from me, they would then in turn vilify them. Talk about my son’s write ups in middle school for obstructive behavior. The behavior was usually around a pencil, but for some reason my black son was a disturbance when he asked to go to his locker to get the pencil he forgot. My son was asked to be part of a special afterschool program where they play basketball and try to connected with the boys that tended to be a little wilder. Mind you my son went a few times until I picked him up and saw only black boys in the gym.
Black men are seen as a threat that plagues society. How many times do I have to hear ‘not him, he’s one the good ones’ before others understand how horrible a statement that is and try as I might my son refuses to wear a sign that says I’m one of the good ones so he doesn’t get shot for being a teenage black boy or at least the officer chooses to shoot him with a taser instead of a gun. Or better yet calms him down verbally.
I know I’ve rambled more than I usually do and humor wasn’t peppered throughout the blog, but I can’t be flippant any more. I’m scared, petrified, and just want my family to be safe when they step out of the house because that was the way I was raised.
I leave you with the closing argument from A Time to Kill. Maybe if the shoot first and vilifying after of the victim differently if you imagine it was a white father with a four year old in the back seat, or a white man broke down on the side of the highway needing assistance, or a white guy being pulled over my unmarked police cars that might not even be police officers you’ll realize their lives mattered.