A month ago, my daughter asked, “Are we supposed to be afraid of the police?”
My immediate response was, “No sweetheart, and why would you ask me that question?”
I was unprepared for her answer.
My daughter noted that my 9-year-old son (her twin brother) played in their grandparent’s yard and saw a police car.
He was so frightened that he went to hide until the police vehicle drove by. As an African-American father, my emotions were paradoxical. I struggled to internalize my son’s fear of police at such a young age, albeit I know his pensiveness is palpable.
Paradoxically, when I was a child, I admired police and would become elated upon their visit to my elementary school. Furthermore, as a public servant, I’ve established a diverse set of friends currently serving in law enforcement. Proudly, my grandfather retired as a federal agent after 43 years of service. Because of these men and women, I have a profound reverence for their sacrifice and service to our country and communities.
However, despite my friendship and family ties, I’ve had several unfortunate experiences with the police. My most memorable occurred when I came home for a holiday break during my first semester in college. My flight landed a couple of hours prior; several friends and I were hanging out in front of our childhood homes when multiple police cars pulled up. When we asked why we were being approached, officers responded, “an anonymous tip.”
Subsequently, I was placed in handcuffs under the guise of, “You fit the description of someone who ran from us last week.” My response, “That’s impossible, I’m in college out of state and just came home for semester break today.” Astonishingly, officers then responded, “Shut up, stop talking, you’re not the college type.” To date, one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.
Similarly, though that incident is poignant, I’ve had multiple encounters with law enforcement, including being held at gunpoint at 16 years old, in addition to spurious traffic stops asking, “Why are you in this neighborhood?”
Nonetheless, I consider myself fortunate as, sadly, the families of individuals such as Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Botham Jean and Tamir Rice had to endure police killings’ visceral nightmares. And of all the names mentioned, none were criminals; they were law-abiding citizens pursuing the American dream only for their lives to be unjustly taken.
If equitable policies were employed, their lives could’ve been spared. Although no solution is perfect, defunding the police or reducing government budgets isn’t the answer. Notwithstanding, applying safe methodologies in law enforcement engagement can begin with having compassion.
Additionally, reallocating appropriations to cultural competency training within police departments will alleviate police distrust in communities of color. As an African-American father, I don’t want my son to fear the police, or I worry about his safety. To this end, we must cultivate a more racially tolerant society where 9-year-old Black boys won’t fear those entrusted to protect and serve them.