A reader writes:
I am in fear.
My son is 15 years old but looks like he is 20. He just crossed six feet tall and is growing, he is an athlete, a swimmer and is muscular and imposing, but he is also a completely sensitive wimp. I am white, he looks more like his mother, who is black. He has already had a bizarre police encounter. When he was 13 years old, we hired a college student on summer break to take him to and from swim practice because we were at work; she is a family friend; young, white and blond. On his first week, they were pulled over by the police and no explanation was given. The police immediately came to the passenger side where my son was, told him to get out of the car, put him up against the car, patted him down and demanded identification. Being a 13 year old, he had no ID. The girl was asked to step out of the car and was questioned, only about my son.
After some time, they left, no explanation, no ticket – nothing. The girl’s parents were as upset as we were but understandably told us that no offense meant but they didn’t want to be putting their daughter in that situation and so we needed to find another ride. We spoke to the police and were told that since there was not ticket or arrest, there was no report, so there was no explanation. Nothing happened, but because I have no idea why the interaction happened in the first place, I have no idea what could have happened.
Therefore I ran through a hundred scenarios, a number of which where my son could be as dead as many others. My ex-wife and I are both lawyers, we have means and can protect our children better than most. They go to private school, they have every other benefit education family and money can provide. (By the way, they had airsoft guns – pink ones – and only used them right around the house but not after last week.) And certainly they have been told often not to argue with authority – teachers and law enforcement – but they are still kids and do stupid things. We live in a city, but not in a dangerous area. But I am terrified because I am white and although I knew these things happen, I have never walked in a black man’s shoes.
However, for me, myself as a father of a kid who fits a profile, black and imposing, the type who seems to lend to unnatural terror among police, this is a scenario I can’t account for or defend against. In this sliver of circumstance, I have some small realization of the plight of people who have to deal with this daily. I am frustrated that people like me, white and privileged, have no inkling how the parents of a black kid growing up a dangerous place must feel every freaking day and how blithely we can dismiss these events because they are never going to happen to us.
I just watched the video for the first time, and I’m pretty sure I’ll hear at work tomorrow (in my smaller southern town in NW Georgia) exactly what I heard a few days ago after the Michael Brown non-indictment: he got what he deserved, he was arguing with the police, he instigated the situation by (insert whatever the cops said he was doing here), what were they supposed to do anyway when he resisted arrest?
For the life of me, I cannot grasp the mindset among so many of my friends and co-workers that finds this sort of thing acceptable, that they can just shrug if off with a “Well, he brought it on himself.” They have no concept of proportionality, of a punishment fitting a crime. All the see is a person of color in conflict with authorities, and in those cases – ALWAYS in those cases – the person of color brings it upon him- or herself by not acquiescing to the demands of the police. And they get what they deserve, because they were asking for it.
A week or so ago, you featured a letter from a gay reader who was thankful that he was gay because, for one thing, it allowed him to understand what it is to be the Other. As a gay man myself, I join him in that sentiment. I have so much in common with these friends and co-workers, but on things that matter, on issues of empathy and compassion and attempts at understanding others who are different but who live next to us and work beside us daily, we are worlds apart, and it seems with every passing incident a chasm ever more unbreachable.
There are two tragedies here: the loss of life, and the loss of humanity. I am emotionally exhausted and distraught by both in equal measure.
You’re not alone.