Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Let it start with me.

It's been a hot minute since I've used this platform.  Raising two black teenagers in todays world can be terrifying, I cannot sit complacent.  Many will think this story is unbelievable and that this stuff doesn't happen. It does. I cannot stay silent.  We must unite with our black brothers and sisters, we must listen and learn from them, they have suffered far too long.  Bridges must be built.  Let it start with me.  

I am a white woman married to a white man and we have five amazing kids.  Three are white and two are black.  We are a family.  

One summer day I let my two young black children go for a walk in the neighborhood.  You see my young son desperately wanted to work to earn money and a neighbor had mentioned he was such a hard worker around our house that maybe he should offer to do yard work or dog walking in the neighborhood for a small fee.  He’d been begging me for weeks to let him ask the neighbors and I hadn’t let him.  I’d never let my young black son walk around the neighborhood alone.  Not him nor his younger sister.  I’d always made one of his older siblings go with him.  This seems prudent except that it wasn’t because I didn’t trust him, or he wasn’t responsible and respectful or he wasn’t old enough.  I knew that he’d be safe with his older white brother or sister.  Normally I wouldn’t describe my children by the color of their skin, much the same as I shouldn’t have to decide which ones can safely go outside in our own neighborhood because of the color of their skin.  

This particular day he was persistent and I don’t operate in fear so I didn’t want my son to either, yet I felt like I was protecting him.  I finally gave in with the instruction that him and his sister stay together and not walk in anyone’s yard and to be respectful.  I knew they always were but I just wanted to remind them.  To keep them safe.  Off they went, thrilled that they had some freedom and responsibility to engage the neighbors, my son is incredibly outgoing and gregarious.  He doesn’t know a stranger.  They came back without incident and my heart slowed a bit as I asked them about their walk and if they’d found any neighbors that needed help.  They hadn’t but my son wasn’t phased, he planned to go out again the next day because several people weren’t home.

Thirty minutes later the local county sheriff was at my door.

My son answered the door not knowing who was there, we lived in a safe relatively diverse area and had an open door policy so this wasn’t abnormal.  I was cleaning in my room and he calmly came in and said “mom there’s a police officer at the door”.  I bristled and began to shake uncontrollably.  I quickly self corrected as I wanted to remain calm for my children.  I came around the corner and could see the officer with his hand on his gun, I calmly said can I help you sir?  He immediately shifted when he saw me.  It was clear he didn’t expect me to be white and in that moment I felt my privilege in a tangible way.  What would his response have been if I had been black?  He could hardly speak clearly as he fell all over his words asking if I lived there and if I’d seen anyone in the neighborhood that didn’t belong?  I asked for clarity on what he was asking me.  He then pointed to my son and asked if he lived here I said yes this is my son.  He again seemed at a loss for words.  He asked if he’d been home all day and I quickly realized where this was going.  

I explained that for the first time ever I’d allowed my two youngest children to go outside without one of their older white siblings.  This officer didn’t have any idea what he’d just gotten himself into.  He listened to me and he commended my son and said he wished his son wanted to work to earn some money.  I asked him why he was called and he struggled to tell me that someone had called the police because “there had been a series of car break ins” and they saw suspicious people knocking on doors and looking in cars.  My kids did not look in cars.  They walked by cars as they were walking in their own neighborhood.  I asked who had called and I kept pressing for more information because it just didn’t add up for me.  He said that someone was talking in the church parking lot and had seen my kids walking around and that they had gone up to a door and they felt they were looking in the windows.  They described my kids as older teens.  They were 9 and 11 and of very small stature.  The officer even agreed this was far fetched and struggled to admit this was racial.  He went with the “fearful old ladies gossiping in the church parking lot and called the police”.  The officer was kind and understanding when I called out what I thought was blatant racism especially because the house in question knew my children lived in the neighborhood.  He didn’t disagree but was quiet on the matter.  I let him know that I now understood clearly that it was unsafe for my children to walk around their neighborhood by themselves because of their skin color.  He tried to assure me they were safe but I could tell he knew I was struggling.  I assured him it wouldn’t happen again.  For their own safety.  He put his head down, apologized and left.

As soon as the door closed my two precious children burst into tears, I held them close and just wept.  Immediately I called my husband and told him to come home I then updated our older kids who weren’t home.  Soon everyone was at the house affirming the kids and speaking truth over them.  We prayed for the callers and begged God to heal our land.

All of this seems like too much but it wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to know how my children’s names would be used in a report and get it removed if they were in there.  I wanted to know exactly what the report said and how I could file a complaint against these false reporters.  I wanted justice for my children.  For the first time I felt a tinge of what black mothers must feel when their children are wrongly accused and targeted.  

What I discovered in the police report was more than my heart could take and why I never shared this publicly in 2017.  It shook me to my core.

The woman that called the police described my children as rattling door handles on houses and attempting to open car doors.  None of that happened.  My son opened a screen door to knock on the door as there was not a door bell.  They walked by cars in the drive way, they didn’t touch them.  Because of what one woman said this was classified as a robbery in progress.  We lived in an unincorporated area of an affluent yet somewhat diverse town.  The county sheriff was dispatched and a police surround perimeter of our neighborhood was made.  They were searching for robbers and I have no idea what my children would have done if they had been surrounded and shouted at.  They were babies.  I’m afraid they would have run or one of them would have and my son without a doubt would have protected his sister.  This scenario plays over and over in my head.  What if they hadn’t come home.  What if their fear told them to flee?  

This is real friends.  I don’t blame the officers, they had no idea what they were walking into that day they only knew what was called in.  I talked at length with a friend (a former police officer) that day and he said this was protocol.  I believe that.  I just don’t know what would have happened if they had been in the middle of that.  

It saddens me that for far too long the black community has begged to be heard and we haven’t listened.   Too few white Americans are speaking up.  We must unite, we must listen.

Too many mothers and fathers have lost their children to senseless tragedies just because of the color of their skin. 

Deadly assumptions.

As a white woman I cannot stay silent and you shouldn’t either.  I stand united hand in hand with my black brothers and sisters everywhere.  #blacklivesmatter

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 
- Martin Luther King Jr.

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