We’re going through a time of fear in our home. We’ve been here before, and for awhile now. In our home though, it ebbs and it flows though. That is the privilege afforded to my children by having white parents. For a little while longer, while they live in my home, my children are afforded a certain layer of extra protection by my white skin. I’m certain that other homes are not experiencing that. I don’t know how that feels, the constant fear, and it would be an insult to say that I did, but I know the panic when you read another headline and you search the article for what the person might have done “wrong” and what you could tell your loved one to do differently. I just don’t know it daily. That defines my privilege.
When another shooting occurs though, I read each article, and I look for anything to tell my children to do differently. More rules to add to the code. More guidelines to live by to keep them from dying.
Put your hands in the air.
Lie on the ground.
Get out your ID.
I can now give you names that go with each of these scenarios. They are names of the dead.
Last week, Joe was speaking to a neighbor while the kids played outside, riding their bike back and forth on the sidewalk. Jax asked an innocent question about rules and how they are enforced. At some point, every child wonders what will happen to more innocent, non-violent, breaches of the rules, like jaywalking, is that something you get arrested for? No. Most parents explain the concept of a warning, or a citation, and then, most parents move on. We explain all that too, but we take it one step further. We remind our children, every time, that even a warning by law enforcement carries risk. Every interaction does. We explain how it’s not fair that it is different for us, as their parents, in our white skin, then it might be for them, in their black skin. We explain our privilege. We explain the code. We are SO tired of explaining the code.
Our neighbor was appalled. She sputtered “Oh no! Don’t tell him that! I know police who aren’t like that! I don’t want him to think ALL police are that way!” We know that. We’re not telling our children that ALL people are any way. I know how one could interpret it that way though. Hearing us speak to our children this way is shocking for people who have never had to hear it because of the color of skin they live in. It’s upsetting. It is stealing a little bit of their innocence every time I have to do it. It feels like I’m peeling away a little of their skin, hurting them, creating a wound that will inevitably scar over and leave them hardened to the world around them. I have to choose, as a mother, do I scar them, or do I leave them with their innocence and risk losing them to the violence? I have always chosen the scars.
This week though, there were no words of warning left.
On Thursday night, I made the difficult decision to tell my children that I don’t know. I don’t know anymore what to tell them to do anymore to keep themselves safe. They asked me about what happened to Terence Crutcher as we were driving to our local Sign Language Club. It was just me and the three eldest boys: Cam, Brady and AJ. Cam is 14-years-old now, AJ and Brady are 12 and 13.
They’re not stupid. Honesty is a necessity. So, I can no longer lie and pretend I have answers.
I can’t come up with any more guidelines or rules. I can’t talk through anymore possible scenarios. “Okay, if you go to the park and you are approached by an officer, you should…” “Okay, if you’re playing music really loudly and a neighbor approaches you, you should…” “Okay, if your car breaks down…” I’m out of caveats to the code. Every time I think I have a guideline, there’s a new scenario that I never accounted for, a scenario that ended in death.
The words “I don’t know what to say to keep you safe anymore. I am so sorry,” poured out of my mouth and I thought the only thing a mother could think in this scenario. I’ve failed you. Do you know how that felt? Can you imagine? Can you imagine having to say that to your children?
I want you to try.
Then I want to imagine hearing it as a child. I want you to think about your own childhood. I want you to imagine the person you counted on for everything, maybe it was your mom, your grandpa, your uncle or auntie, I want you to imagine them telling you “I don’t know what to say anymore to keep you safe.” I want you to think of the adult in your life and I want you to imagine them saying that.
Then I want you to feel it.
It’s time to feel each other’s fear now.
I can feel your fear. I can feel your fear of loss as you watch your son or daughter strap on their kevlar before their shift and you think to yourself “Why the hell do they even do this job? It pays piss for what you put up with. There are too many guns on the streets. Every time you take one of the street, 18 more appear. Is it worth your life? You’re in danger every time you go to work. They spit in your face. They yell ‘$%&* the police!’ at you as they riot!” You are afraid. You are afraid for your son, your daughter, who are Law Enforcement Officers.
You are afraid of losing your children the way I am afraid of losing mine.
You are allowed your fear. I would never try to take that away from you. I know that fear, and it only makes me angry to have someone try to take it.
I never will.
You will NEVER hear me tell you to “Sit down and shut up. You have nothing to complain about. You have your rights. You have your freedom. Your whining about this danger is ungrateful and counterproductive to your cause.”
I am so sorry you are there, and here I am with you.
There is not a lot that separates us, except one key point.
Your son or daughter can take off their kevlar. My children can never take off their skin.
For that reason, if for no other, I want you to know my fear too.
I want you to understand my children’s fear, and I need you to allow them space to have it.
They don’t need to be told that not all police are going to try to shoot them. They know that. Logically, we all know that. I tell my children that my fight is NEVER against one individual police officer. My fight is against the injustice that occurs within the way people in this country are being policed. I am fighting for a culture change.
My children have chosen no contact with law enforcement for now. Yes, we got many kind offers for ride alongs in the back of police cars so that my children could see positive law enforcement interactions. Law Enforcement Officers have asked us if they can visit our home. We love you for that. We do. But, my children, they are children. Some of them are large, growing into men, but they’re not there yet, and as much as they would hate to tell it to you, they’re afraid. We have a lot of work to do, all of us.
They need to see change. They need to see accountability. They need to see the good officers we KNOW exist out there fighting for it. When it happens, they’ll see it, and they’ll learn to trust again.
We are asking for your empathy right now. I know that is a lot in the face of so much fear. I know. In return, we will keep talking. I promise. I won’t stop, because I don’t want them to fear anyone simply because of the profession they’re in, or the uniform they wear. Scars and fear lead to much worse things. They lead to hate. That’s a place that we won’t ever go.
Not in my home.
–FullPlateMom, who sees you, and wants you to see her too.