Parents, hold your boys close: Black parents, hold your boys closer.
In light of Trayvon Martin's killing, I have reflected on my past challenges and fears of raising my boys and keeping them safe. Many parents have told me it's so much easier raising boys than girls. I say there are different sets of challenges, but both are equally as difficult. With girls you have to protect them from other boys. With boys, you have to protect them from society. That includes law enforcement.
I wanted to lower the odds of my sons becoming Chicago statistics. That's why we moved to Oak Park. I feared gangs and Chicago cops. This community embraced diversity and provided excellent schools. However, fleeing to the suburbs didn't guarantee protection. Our society is still predominantly white and fearful of black boys walking down the street; God forbid if he runs.
It happened to my oldest. When he was a little tike, Devin was considered cute and adorable. But when he reached the age of 12, he changed from a precious little boy to a presumed predator. As soon as he blew out those adolescent birthday candles, the police were hot on his trail.
When we moved to Oak Park, Devin ran into a long time friend whose parents were instrumental in convincing us to move. Devin ran home to ask if he could spend the night. He wanted to beat the rain that was fast approaching. A Chicago cop (in Oak Park) stopped him two blocks from our home, asked him who he was, where he lived and why he was running. The officer continued to drill my son with the same questions as if in disbelief. The cop brought him home in the squad car. My boy was frightened beyond words. His dad and I were enraged. The officer told us, 'Have a nice day.'
It happened again, this time Oak Park cops. He was wearing a hoodie, another time, after dropping off a DVD at Blockbuster. He was running home in preparation for a cross country meet. A black man running is a highly suspicious thing. You would have thought my son had a TV set on his shoulders. When Devin started driving, he was stopped numerous times for no reason. Yes, it's so cliche but true: He was DWB, Driving While Black. Let me say for the record, that the police were from surrounding villages and Chicago. In my estimation, Oak Park and River Forest law enforcement seem more fair than the usual cop variety.
At our high school A.P.P.L.E. meetings (African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) we discussed with parents and students how to respond to cops if stopped. We felt it necessary to empower our boys with survival tools so they may protect themselves with dignity while being respectful to law enforcement, no matter how unjust the situation is. Sanford Florida law includes "Stand Your Ground" meaning you have the right to bear arms and defend yourself. Trayvon was a victim of it. This was our way of helping our kids "stand their ground" if faced with this humiliating situation.
We passed out the instructional cards to keep in their back pockets. In some states, the person in question is required to give the officer his name and address. The American Civil Liberties Union provided the tips:
IF YOU ARE STOPPED FOR QUESTIONING
Stay calm. Don't run. Don't argue, resist or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or police are violating your rights. Keep your hands where police can see them.
Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why.
You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud. In some states, you must give your name if asked to identify yourself.
You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may "pat down" your clothing if they suspect a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent for any further search. If you do consent, it can affect you later in court.
IF YOU ARE STOPPED IN YOUR CAR
Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel.
Upon request, show police your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance.
If an officer or immigration agent asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. But if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent.
Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, sit silently or calmly leave. Even if the officer says no, you have the right to remain silent.
My husband had been subjected to multiple stops by police as well. I was with him a handful of those times. One pulled a gun on him! The same happened to Devin. Thank God nothing tragic happened. Ironically, my youngest son, Kai was stopped only once by a cop on his way home from school.
Trayvon, was not so fortunate. He was gunned down by an overzealous neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman who followed Trayvon, against the police dispatcher's orders. Trayvon was carrying a can of tea and Skittles.
On a final note, I will never forget what a young white woman (who I thought was my friend) told me, with honesty and sincerity, after I shared my story with her. She thought it was unfortunate, but if stopping my innocent sons and husband meant securing her safety, then she could live with that. I think society would agree. That's why justice is moving slow for Trayvon and other innocent black boys who are victims in the name of "safety". I will say this to "Society": Don't be surprised when black rage rears it's head for the safety of our black boys.