My girls LOVE the police. They own a power-wheels-ish police car (complete with sirens). They own dress-up police hats, badges, handcuffs, walkie-talkies. They are totally obsessed with Dierks Bentley's song "5-1 5-0" ("somebody call the po-po")---because it references the police. A year or so ago, we called our local police station and asked if we could come meet with a female police officer so the girls could ask her questions, to which the station sent an officer to our home where she spent an hour playing with the girls and talking to them about safety. They were, of course, enamoured. And then there were the other police visits to our home---when, once again, the 911 app on my cell was accidentally pushed, and the police are required to respond even when I assure the dispatcher that there is no emergency. The girls wait by the front door, thrilled to see the person in the blue uniform approaching. (Sigh.)
Two weeks ago, I attended a community meeting with one of my three littles in tow. There was a police officer present whom my daughter kept sneaking glances at over my shoulder. After the meeting, I asked my daughter if she would like to say hello to the officer, to which she said yes. We spent a few minutes talking with him. He knelt down to my daughter's level and asked her how old she was and talked about his own three-year-old. My daughter was thrilled to be so close to an officer and to engage with him.
Later that night, I was thinking about how much my daughters enjoy the police. To them, police catch "bad guys" and keep people safe. They respond when there are emergencies. And in our community, the police are usually seen at fun kid-booths at local festivals, handing out stickers and giving the little ones high-fives. They encourage the kids and their parents to visit the station at any time to take a tour and greet officers.
But my kids are Black.
And the media teaches all of us, police or not, that Black people are to be suspect by nature, to be feared, to be questioned, to be untrustworthy until proven otherwise. And the more "gangsta" or "thug" the person looks, the more they should be suspect, especially if they are males, especially if they have darker skin, and especially if they are with one or more other Black males.
The police readily greet my children right now. Part of it is that they are young children. They are well-dressed, with their hair done and their sparkly shoes on. They are smiling. Part of it is that we, their parents, are White. We are the privileged race who, contrary to brown-skinned people, are given the benefit of the doubt: we are trustworthy, we are safe, we are boring and hardly noticeable, we are non-confrontational.
But what about ten years from now? Fifteen years from now? What about when my kids are driving or riding in a car with friends? What about when they are at the mall? What about when they stop at a gas station to load up on junk food that mama won't give them at home? What about when they are simply walking down a sidewalk through a neighborhood where they look like they may not belong? What about when they are trying to purchase a belt at a department store? What about when they are headed into a college classroom or into a job interview? What about when they are simply sitting in a car in a parking lot listening to music?
As I type this post, I recall the morning I spent lifting weights in front of the television, my three beautiful children occupying themselves with toys, while I watched Katie Couric conduct several interviews about the Jordan Davis case. Tears streamed down my face. I could hardly breathe at times. The boy in the pictures could be my child one day: guilty of being black in America...and shot for it.
A few weeks ago, I dressed my one-year-old son for the day. I pulled an adorable red-striped thermal top over his head, gently guided his arms into the sleeves while he grinned at me. I then sat him on the floor and went to wash my hands after changing his diaper, and I came back to see that my girls had taken the shirt's hood and pulled it up and over my son's head. They giggled as he nodded his head back and forth while smiling, enjoying the sensation of the hood on his soft hair.
There he was. A bright-eyed little boy, sitting on the floor of his bedroom with morning sunshine streaming through the windows and placing happy patterns on the floor.
And it hit me that he was a black boy wearing a hood.
And my mind flashed-forward to what that could mean when he's fifteen. Or twenty. Or twenty-five. And what if he didn't live that long because someone found him suspect simply because of a hood and his skin color?
And I don't know how in the world I'll be able to protect my children from real, raw, terrible dangers that lurk everywhere. I don't know how to keep them safe when they are considered suspect for being brown.
Will the police who are so kind to my children now, be the same officers who pull my kids over in a few years? Who question them at the mall? Who arrest them out of fear and personal bias?
Will the people who compliment my oldest's hairstyle, who smile at my three-year-old skipping through a store without a worry in the world, who can't help but gently touch the cheek of my bubbly, one-year-old...will these same people be so admiring, so kind, and so approving and encouraging when my children are ten, fifteen, twenty? Think of the jurors who didn't convict Jordan Davis' murderer with first degree murder, because, gulp, some of those jurors somehow identified with the killer's reasoning and justified his actions----because, let's face it, no one is colorblind and race is always a factor in any situation.
I don't want anyone to be colorblind (Nor do I want people to continue to tell me they are---because they are liars). We celebrate race. We appreciate race. We recognize race.
I do want fairness. Justice. Chances.
I want my children to have what I had growing up and what I have now: equal opportunity.
I want their lives to be valued.
I want them to shine.
I want them to flourish.
I want them be who they are, even if it makes other people uneasy.
I want them to be proud Black people who know their history, who feel confident in their skin, and who don't feel they have to code-switch, clothing-switch, music-switch just to appease others.
I want them to be free.
Adults who are parenting children of color carry heavy hearts, because we know that each time another child's face flashes on the news, another victim of injustice, that we aren't immune. We aren't special. That we can talk to our kids, that we can empower them, that we can take precautions...
but our kids aren't free.
And we fear they never will be.
So we hold our breath, we pray, and we beg God to keep our children safe, because we know the world cannot be trusted.