If either of my sons runs late returning home from work or a night out with friends in Kansas City, I start texting him and then I start pacing. Anxiety sets in.
I’m wondering: Where is that boy? Did he get into a wreck?
Is he lying on the pavement somewhere with a department-issued bullet in his chest? I’m imagining the world watching through shaky body cam footage as my beautiful boy’s promise and life are blown from his body by some scared, racist police officer who has no business asking him to prove he’s worth a damn, much less from behind the sheen of a badge.
Call it a crazy exaggeration. I wish it were. But it’s real, and if you are a mother of Black sons you know what I’m talking about. Black people make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, but make up 22% of police shooting fatalities, according to the latest NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.
An explanation of how it feels to be a mother of Black sons in America should not also have to include a defense of my pain.
If your sons are white, let me assure you, this ain’t no average mama worry thing. I got that too. This is on top of that.
If I don’t hear back from my child right away, a hot feeling of dread washes over me, starting with a tightening in my chest, then shortness of breath and a pounding heart.
He’s 25, a college graduate, a working engineer and as he likes to say, “a grown ass man.”
And none of that matters because he’s a Black man first. And unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you know that Black men, no matter what their station in life, die at the hands of police regularly in this country. They have been since the slave catchers were deputized — and those laid the foundations of American law enforcement.
It’s a lesson I’ve been sharing with both of my sons ever since they were old enough to leave my side. Ever since they were old enough to notice their father’s shaking hands tighten on the steering wheel any time he saw approaching police lights flashing in the distance from his rearview mirror.
Of course we had the talk about what to do if you are ever stopped by police — open hands on the steering wheel, yes sir, yes ma’am. They know the drill. They recite it like a nursery rhyme — passed down generation after generation.
Yet every time I hear about another young Black man killed at the hands of police that nursery rhyme sounds a little less comforting, and I’m having the talk with them all over again.
My oldest is nearly 30, a college grad, a newspaper editor and a law-abiding citizen. And yet, I worry.
It’s exhausting. Like hauling a 50-pound sack of potatoes on your back — every day, all day — exhausting.
Daunte Wright another name on long list
Even after all the sign-toting, marching, chanting, Facebooking, tweeting and Instagramming about the unjust police killing of unarmed Black men over the last 12 months, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.
I mean for goodness sake, while the whole country is watching a police officer on trial for murder, for killing George Floyd in broad daylight, on camera, on the streets of Minneapolis, another officer just a few miles away shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright — another unarmed Black man — for a simple traffic violation. And those in caves will cry, no, it was the warrants! Because a misdemeanor warrant is a license to kill?
Seriously? I weep as I write.
Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Walter Lamar Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and so many, many more. The killed list is way too long to include all the names here.
I can imagine the pain their mothers experienced because I know the debilitating feeling that comes over me just fearing the possibility that this could happen to one of my sons.
They have just been lucky. Both of them have had scary run-ins with police, and not because either of them did a thing wrong, but rather because some believe that being Black and male adds up to probable cause.
I’ll never forget the phone call from my youngest. He’d taken his viola — oh yeah, I forgot to say he’s a musician who used to play with the Youth Symphony of Kansas City — to play on the Independence Square for folks during the Pokemon Go craze. Most of the time the square is nearly deserted and business owners there are begging people to visit, for some activity that will generate economic growth.
Before my son went, he researched city ordinances to make sure playing an instrument on the square is allowed. It is. Still while he was there, and children were dancing around his feet as he played, an officer approached him and told him to leave. He refused to listen to my son explain that it was OK with city officials. That he wasn’t soliciting — even though ordinances don’t forbid that. My son called me, and in the background I could hear the officer yelling, “Pack up your stuff and get out of here.”
My chest draws tight. I struggle to breathe. My heart pounds.
I pleaded with him, just leave. Don’t argue. Come home. Talk to city officials later. Then I jumped in my car and headed to the square, talking to myself the entire 10 minute drive — please let him be OK, please let him be OK. Thank God he was OK and the next morning, in a suit jacket and tie, he marched down to the city to complain.
This is how we live.
I know some will read this and ask why this newspaper, or any news outlet for that matter, is writing about this again, because it’s not news. That’s true, actually: The killing is so frequent, the pain and protests that follow have become normalized.
The tears we mothers shed could fill buckets. But this killing didn’t just start in our lifetime. A well of Black mothers’ tears came before ours.
I’m tired of praying, pacing and weeping. I’m angry, pissed off.
We can put men on the moon, fly a tiny helicopter on Mars and develop not one but four COVID-19 vaccines in warp speed to battle a pandemic and yet we can’t seem to come up with a battery of tests that detect the lack of empathy, humanity and morality in racist wannabe cops? There are plenty of great officers on police forces in this country. Get rid of the bad guys. Better yet, don’t hire them in the first place.
Having Black sons should not have to be a burden we bear from the moment they are born.