It is winter break in New York City. My home has become a hub for hover boards, battle raps, snap chat videos and basketball games. There is a limitless amount of laughter that permeates these walls. The kind of laughter that peaks on annoyance and tests one’s patience. The kind of laughter that enables more laughter because this is what laughter does. It is a contagion but also a reminder that there is life here.
My teenage sons are home for the holidays and they are safe. They can sleep til noon and awaken to the smell of bacon and eggs. They can listen to J. Cole while playing Call of Duty from the confines of a warm bed. They can run outside for a quick game of manhunt or chill in the living room watching the Knicks play while eating mint chocolate chip ice cream out of the carton. They are allowed this much. To be young and free and alive.
I’ve been in quiet reflection since Monday, December 28th when the world learned that the officer responsible for the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice would not face any charges. The mother in me mourns for Tamir in the same way she mourned for Trayvon. I have 4 sons who are black and brown and 17 and 12. They are full of potential and possibility, of imagination and mischief and they are mine. Who gets to decide they can take what’s of my flesh and blood? Who is held accountable for such grave indifference to human life?
It is easy to desensitize ourselves from injustice when it does not directly affect us. I am often in a state of rebuttal when advocating the loss of another person of color at the hands of an overzealous officer. This week I am tired. I don’t want to explain why a 12 year old child should never have to worry about being shot down like cattle at the playground. I shouldn’t have to explain why it is not Samaria Rice’s fault that someone who was sworn to protect and serve took less than 2 seconds to decide her son’s life was not worth saving. I sure as hell don’t feel like explaining the disproportionate number of black and Latino men killed by police this year alone but here’s a hint. According to a study by The Washington Post:
race still remains one of the main reasons of police brutality. Almost 40% of fatal police shootings were aimed at unarmed black men even though they comprise only 6% of the population.
For the past 3 years I’ve taught my boy’s how the importance of compliance lessens the chance of becoming a victim to state sanctioned violence. I have to remind them to be meek and not to ask questions. Do what you are told. Hands on the steering wheel. Don’t run. Don’t turn your back. Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t reach for your cell phone. Don’t fidget. Don’t argue. Just be still in your brown body and breathe. My children have been taught to dehumanize themselves long enough to not be seen as a potential threat because “human error” may cost them their life. This is what it means to mother a black or brown child in America.
In October of this year my husband and I purchased a home in Suffolk County, about an hour out from New York City. One rainy evening a few nights ago I asked my 19 year old son to make a store run. My kid, 5 ft 8 in. of college baseball brawn and circuit training physique jumps in his car for the short ride to the deli. Upon his return I notice his mood is off. He’s agitated and clearly annoyed. While leaving the deli he sees the trunk of a car open and proceeds to tap on the window of its owner to advise them of the oversight. The woman behind the wheel lets out a scream so jostling my kid is forced to crawl inside of himself from sheer embarrassment. This is what it means to be a person of color in America.
After learning her baby boy was murdered, Samaria Rice had to make the agonizing decision to stay with Tamir’s lifeless body at the playground where he was killed or accompany Tamir’s sister- who was cuffed and in a squad car- to their local precinct. This is what it means to mother a black child in America. Where due process is a privilege not a right. When we have to constantly defend the characters of our children in life and in death. The many times I’ve been told by friends that I never have to worry about my kids because they are good kids. As if respectability politics has ever prevented them from being profiled.
At the stroke of midnight I will welcome in the New Year with my family. My four sons will be present and sound. I will offer praise to the most high for the luxury of having them another second, minute, hour, day, month and year. I am aware that this too is a privilege.