Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Lesson for D: Being Black in Brooklyn

This afternoon we needed to walk to Daniel's dance class because our new car is in the shop for a faulty door. It was a windy cold day but not an unpleasant walk.  Then we came across a scene I wish wasn't quite so common in our city: four police cars, a police van, and a group of young black teenagers being interviewed by police officers.  The youth were pretty young, maybe Freshman in High School, and this all was taking place outside our local park.  Likely there was a fight or an intent to fight or some scuffle over the rights to the basketball courts, and it got noisy and the neighbors called the cops.  As my little son and I passed by, we overheard one of the officers telling the group of teens that either they tell them what really happened, or they'll all be arrested. The large van stood at the ready.

I hustled Daniel by, but my head and my heart flashed forward 10 years. My son, now a tall strong black teenager, hanging out with friends afterschool.  My son, being questioned by police. My son, being pushed against a playground fence and searched.

Sigh. I knew they were coming, the lessons we need to teach our black son. So we started today. I took a deep breath and started his Education.

Lesson One: Do not get caught up in a group. When trouble starts, GET OUT OF THERE.  I lectured Daniel about how not to stick around if other kids are starting to do the wrong thing (fight, steal). Leave right away or get help. I told him how the police sometimes won't know who the bad guy is and will just arrest everyone. Yes, I told my 6 year old cops make mistakes. Yes, my 6 year old knows what "steal", "arrest" and "jail" mean. Most of the rest of it went over his head, or past his rolled up eyes. But this won't be the last time he hears this lesson.

The hard truth is that cops don't like big groups of black teens. And all it takes is one stupid teenager to cause a world of trouble for a bunch of kids who are just hanging out.

We pray that Daniel never gets caught up in a stop and frisk. We pray that a dumb teen prank doesn't land him in a world of trouble. We pray that we never get a phone call from him at the precinct. But we know it is rare, in our city in our time for a black teen, even a "good kid" to grow up without some negative interaction with police. And Daniel, my wonderful son, is tall and strong and loves sports and loves to hang out with older kids.  It won't be long. It won't be long til he's in a group playing and getting stupid in the park and scaring the neighbors.  So I better start these lessons now.

What will Lesson 2 be? What should it be?

in such a rush to grow up.... he's already asked when he can learn to drive...

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