There Are Conversations We Must Have With Our Children
Mutaqee Akbar, Managing Partner
13 April 2018
On Saturday morning my dad, my son and I met for our weekly brunch. This week’s conversation included a tearful and hopeless conversation about Stephon Clark – the death, murder, and lynching of Stephon Clark. We have had discussions before about the countless victims of police murders such as, Mike Brown or Tamir Rice or Alton Sterling or Philando Castile. We have had conversations about Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, who were victims of gun violence at the hands of murderous white men merely because their black masculinity was a threat. We have had conversations before about the threat of our mere appearance because we are black men. But this conversation was different. This was the first nationally reported police shooting of an unarmed black man in the last 9 months. My son is 9 months old.
In the conversation, my dad and I look at my son with fear for him; for his future. We want to include him in this conversation. We want to tell him, “son, don’t ever walk in the middle of the road and if the police approach you, put your hands all the way up and don’t move too fast because I don’t want you to get shot. Mike Brown.” Or, “son, don’t play with a toy gun in the park by yourself, because the police may think it is a real gun and shoot you faster than it takes them to stop their car. Tamir Rice.” Or, “son, if an officer is approaching you for no reason at all, don’t question it, just comply or you may get shot as you lay on the ground unarmed. Alton Sterling.” Or, “son, if law enforcement asks you for your ID, be very careful about reaching in your pocket because he can feel threatened and shoot you. Philando Castile.” “Son, keep your cell phone in your pocket, even if you are in your own backyard because law enforcement may mistake it for a gun and shoot you 8 times in the back and side. Stephon Clark.”
We know my son is too young to understand. But, when is it too early to start having this conversation? This narrative of unarmed black men slain to death by law enforcement has become tremendously commonplace. The ceremonial next scene in the story entails the proverbial (and quite literal) get-out-of-jail-free card — “fear for the officer’s safety.” This blanketed statement is readily accepted as if officers whose sole training is to manage and ultimately deescalate stressful situations should be excused for failing to do just that.
Slavery, Jim Crow/Segregation, War on Drug’s systematic mass incarcerations, and these violent acts towards the black community all come from the same beast. The beast is systematic racism and America’s misperception of the value of a black life. I should not have to fear for my son’s life before he can walk, talk, and understand. But, I do. And, sadly, I will continue to have this conversation.