[Article updated on August 12, 2014]
It’s something I wish I didn’t have to say. One of the first things we teach children is to respect authority. Listen to your elders. Go ask a grown up. When there’s trouble, dial 911. But, what do you say when the people they are trained to look up to as protectors, too often end up being aggressors. I realize that millions of police officers across the country put their lives on the line every day. Their jobs are hard. It’s not easy. Yet, no one can deny the heartbreaking reoccurring reality of innocent Black youth being killed, neglected or abused by police officers and other people in positions of authority.
I often wonder how to truthfully explain police interaction to children. I image it would go like this:
1) If you’re ever in a car accident, don’t run towards the police for help. They might shoot you. RIP Jonathan Ferrell
2) If you are ever being unlawfully arrested or detained, forget your rights. Don’t speak up for yourself. Even with your hands behind your head, they might shoot you. RIP Oscar Grant
3) Try not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, like at home when police raid it. Try to disappear into thin air. But, whatever you do, don’t be seen. By standing in the hallway, you might get shot. RIP Aiyana Jones
4) If you’re ever with an adult that is in trouble with the law, you may not be recognized as the child that you are. In fact, you may have to carry a sign with you specifically for traffic stops. They can read, “I’m a child, please don’t bash in the window next to my head,” or “Please don’t shoot at the van that I’m in.” Ask Oriana Ferrell’s children.
5) If you’re ever walking home and you’re stalked by a (non uniformed) neighborhood watchman, don’t try to defend yourself. Or else they’ll feel threatened and have the legally upheld right to shoot you. RIP Trayvon Martin
6) Never. Never. Never Walk home at night (or day). They will think you’re a criminal and accuse you of any crime they see fit . You might go to jail for 3 years, only to be released without any explanation. Ask Kalief Browder.
7) If you ever get lost or missing. Don’t expect them to come looking for you immediately unless you’re blonde haired and blue eyed. Just find your own way home. Ask Amir Jennings, Phylicia Barnes and countless others. RIP Latisha Frazier.
8) If you’re ever abducted and forced into sex slavery, don’t expect to be rescued. If they happen to see you, you will not be taken to the hospital. You will be arrested for prostitution… even if you’re 13 years old (the average entry age for sex trafficking victims).
9) If you’re ever acting up at school, don’t worry about what your mother will do when you get home. You might not even go home. Jail could be your next destination, even if you’re 6 years old. – Ask Salecia Johnson.
10) If you’re ever in a car accident, don’t knock on someone’s door for help. You might get shot and labeled a criminal. RIP Renisha McBride
11) If you’re walking down the street…Nevermind. Don’t walk down the street. Don’t breathe. Don’t do anything “normal” because—> you might get shot, even with your hands raised. RIP Mike Brown
12) If you’re ever in Walmart, don’t hold a toy gun. They won’t asking any questions, even though there shouldn’t be a need to. The police will just shoot you down and come up with an excuse later. RIP John Crawford III
The list could go on and on. Though it may seem outlandish, everyone of these circumstances are a part of the everyday realities Black youth face in America. The ever present fear of Blackness robs Black children of the opportunity to have their adolescence and innocence recognized. Even as children, they’re both feared and criminalized. Though the police should be protecting them, historically racist irrational beliefs presume that Black children aren’t in fact children. This breeds serious child endangering consequences like false imprisonment, abandonment and death. Too often police officers believe their job is to protect the public from Black children and not the other way around. It’s sad to say. But right now, Black children can’t trust the police. And why should they?