Artwork: Wak, Watch Where You Pointin’ That Thang!!!
“Ms. April, did somebody die?” four-year old Justin asks as we pass by a makeshift memorial.
Justin lives in the same neighborhood where Mike Brown was killed two years ago. Understanding the importance of giving children age-appropriate answers to their questions, I respond, “Yes honey, someone died.”
“Did the police shoot them?”
“Yes” I respond again.
“Was he Mike Brown’s brother?”
“Ok” he responds as he put his fingers in his mouth, turning back to glare out the bus window, seemingly complacent from the answers I’ve given him.
Same Story, Different Generation
Justin knew and understood that Mike Brown was killed by a police officer. Knowing another young African American boy was killed, matched with his own previous negative experiences with police, shaped his belief, and unfortunate reality, that police don’t keep him safe. And he’s not alone.
As adults, we are grappling with how to manage our own emotions surrounding the genocide of our people, but we can’t forget about the impact these killings have on our children. How do you encourage our black children, especially our boys, to trust the police when there are countless events of black men, women and children dying at the hands of the same people sworn to protect them? There has to be more than encouraging them to cooperate and not talk back, as we know that does not keep a bullet from discharging from that “scared” police officers gun.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
The goal isn’t to strengthen the child’s fear or distrust of police. Nor is it to demean that child’s thoughts, feelings or experiences. There are no clear rules on how to help young black boys and girls navigate racism in America, but I encourage us, as adults, to become more comfortable and active in having conversations regarding difficult topics. When our children tell us they are afraid of the police, we should validate those feelings while still emphasizing the other people in their life who can and will keep them safe. It is a scary reality, but hiding the truth is not protecting them, it’s protecting us. #truthmatters