Maybe the only positive aspect of the past 12 days is that it has presented another opportunity to address race in America. Despite what certain people say, talking about race is not “playing the race card.” It is important to understand the disparity with which African-Americans are treated by law enforcement.
At Gawker, Jazmine Hughes asked black parents and black youth about the “rules, warnings and survival tactics” of being a young, black male in America. The responses were heartbreaking and enlightening. Here are a few examples of advice given by parents to their sons:
“Use your Sunday school manners. Keep your hands where they can be seen, and above all else, do not argue.”
“I instructed my son to ‘never, ever answer a question from the police.’ Ask the police: ‘Am I free to go?’ Do not answer any questions. Be polite. Be cordial. But never answer any questions.”
“Look, stay away from cops. They are not your friends. You answer their questions if they ask you with ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ unless it is incriminating, then you exercise your right to be silent. Don’t talk back, don’t even slouch, pull up your pants. Be polite, no sudden movements. Don’t give him a reason because these cops will shoot you and not think twice about it.”
“I told him I am angry because I don’t want him dead or in jail one day for a crime he either didn’t commit, or because he was minding his business and a police officer sees he fits ‘the profile.'”
The words of young, black males themselves are eye-opening:
“The future doesn’t look so bright. A growing fear of mine is that I will die at the hands of a police officer. What scares me the most is it happening in front of my children.”
“I never want my kids to be used to it. To think it’s normal behavior to be dehumanized by others. I will teach that no reason is enough to justify their demise.”
“Young black males—we have a lot of braggadocio. We want to look cool, but we don’t always act right. That’s what the black male has to fight against, that kind of brutality against ourselves, and that’s the problem. That’s all that cops see.”
“Now, after he (my father) passed, I find myself in the same position where he once stood—wanting to see my people alive and well despite a society that lives off of our deaths.”
“Not too long ago I was haunted by the words of James Baldwin, in an interview, challenging the white reporter: ‘You try facing your son, on the day that he is first called ‘nigger,’ in land of the free and the home of the brave.’ I can’t imagine what I’d say to my son, but I’m sure it’d be very similar to what my father said to me.”
Think about that. In America, about 13% of our population lives in fear of law enforcement. Black parents worry about their sons constantly. Black sons worry, too. And they have good reason. Young, black males are shot by police at a rate of approximately one every day and a half and one in 3 of them are sent to prison. How would you feel if you had that to look forward to?
The disparities of black males being killed or sent to prison is striking. With a population of less than a quarter of the whole, sentencing for black males is appallingly lopsided. Black youths comprise 58% of admissions to state prisons. That’s insane! Those are children, youths who could have had a future save that they tagged a bridge or had a joint in their pocket. When you look at the treatment of young, white males in comparison, it’s sickening. And the boy in that example killed two people.
According to the NAACP, 35% of black children have been suspended or expelled at some point in their schooling. Compare that to white kids at 15%. And those black children are more likely to be sent to an adult prison. There, they are more likely to become hardened criminals.
Think about what those young black men responding to Ms. Hughes said. Imagine being in their shoes. Imagine being the mother of a black boy and being anxious every time he leaves the house. Worrying yourself sick until he comes home again. Think about it. Then ask yourself why it’s like this in 21st century America.