I didn’t want to watch the video. Seeing a black boy shot to death in the street was not something I wanted to see. Because watching it, reading the story, makes me think too much of my own sons.
You probably know by now the video to which I’m referring: that of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot by a police officer. The teen was black. The officer was white. The Chicago shooting happened in October 2014, but the dashcam footage (described as graphic) was just released this week. Authorities say McDonald had a knife. The officer has since been charged with first-degree murder.
The officer’s lawyer has said that his client was afraid; that he was in fear of an attack. From the CNN article: “He’s scared to death, but more than himself, he’s scared for his, wife, his two kids.”
And therein lies the rub.
He shot McDonald because he was afraid. Just like the 67-year-old Tennessee woman who pulled a gun on a black man who asked her for a cigarette lighter. She said she was scared “absolutely to death.” “I have never been so afraid of anything in my whole life, I don’t think,” she said.
They feared for their lives —and yet, their lives did not appear to be in danger. In McDonald’s case, he wasn’t lunging toward the officers, he wasn’t doing anything threatening. He was just walking. He was just being black.
Every time something like this happens, it makes me reflect on what I and my husband can do as parents. And knowing in my heart that we can’t really do anything terrifies me.
A study published last year found that black boys tend to be viewed as older and less innocent than their white counterparts. And many of us already know that black preschoolers are more likely to be suspended than white ones. Even at young ages, our kids are starting to be seen as scary, as dangerous. And that makes me feel hopeless.
What do I tell my sons as we watch the news and see —again — that a black man has been shot? How do I counter the very real possibility that a few short years from now, the adorable faces that strangers now fawn over will instead have them holding their purses tighter? The same beautiful brown skin they have now will make people follow them in stores, make their transgressions more noticeable, make them — scary.
And there’s nothing I can think of that I can do about it. But non-black moms, can. Introduce yourself to those moms with brown faces, especially if there are very few. Make sure your kids have brown friends. Watch “black shows” on TV. Let your kids know that professional athletes aren’t the only brown people available for them to look up to. Don’t let the only time you or your kids see brown faces be when it’s about terrorism or a shooting. Don’t give them the chance to dehumanize us.
So that years from now, when your boy sees my boy, regardless of the circumstance, fear won’t be the thing that crosses his mind. Fear won’t cause your kid to call the police on mine. Fear won’t end in my son being shot. Fear won’t end my sons’ lives.
This post is part of #WhatDoITellMySon, a conversation started by Expert James Oliver, Jr. to examine black males and police violence in the U.S. (and to explore what we can do about it). If you want to join the conversation, share using the hashtag or email firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about writing a post.