A Minority Rite of Passage

No combat rite of passage for young black males but something far more deadly awaits their entry into manhood.

No combat rite of passage for young black males but something far more deadly awaits their entry into manhood.

NYPD’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch claims that New York Mayor de Blasio has blood on his hands for his support of the protests concerning the unnecessary killing of unarmed Eric Garner and others across the country at the hands of the police.

Listening to him and watching others as they support their local police, I can’t help but see in some of them a totally one-way street where support for law enforcement is all-encompassing with little regard for the actions of some of those in blue.  Such support actually puts cops above the laws made for you and me and establishes their own acceptable code of conduct; a code that comes into direct and dangerous conflict with societal norms.

I ask myself, why is this so?  Don’t people see the grief in the parents of the young men killed so tragically, so mistakenly?  Do they even understand the depth of concern that minority parents endure that forces them to have, “the talk” with their progenies?

I don’t think they do; which is why I decided to tell you all a tale of graduation.

My son had finished high school and like many others, he and a group of friends were out that evening, sowing what wild oats their young lives had produced so far.  As luck would have it, they were trying to go to a party in nearby Cherry Hill, a suburb not far from Camden or Philadelphia but didn’t know the way.

That’s how I got the phone call that evening; a call that, hindsight being twenty-twenty, turned out to be rather fortuitous to say the least.  They had pulled over on some dark street; a carload of black teens in the heart of suburbia.  My son was on the line looking for directions when-I could hear the whoop of the siren over the phone- a police cruiser pulled up behind them.

It’s a minority thing, I’m sure, the dread you feel knowing that your son is in a car filled with other black youths and they’re about to be stopped by the police.  It’s dread you feel because frankly, shit happens and when it does, there’s very little adjudication over the deaths that’ve occurred.  It’s a minority parent’s worst nightmare.

I didn’t notice at the time but I had broken out in a cold sweat.  My son, ever the diplomat, bless his heart, muttered under his breath, “Here comes this guy”.  Hearing those words my blood ran cold because I heard attitude in those words and I knew from experience that cops don’t respond well to attitude; particularly not attitude coming from a car filled with black teens and especially not such when it’s coming on a dark street, in the middle of the night.  I immediately checked him.

I got the usual “Ah, Dad’s” from him but I explained that he had to respect the officer and not give him any lip. I advised him to remember that these men are out trying to do a dangerous job and it didn’t help if he was to excite the situation rather than try to calm it.  I told him to answer the officer’s questions and to not allow any other passengers to give up lip either.  And then I told him to leave the line open so I could hear what was going on.

Those were some of the hardest minutes spent in my entire life.  I envisioned all sorts of happenings going down; all of which culminated in the death of mine and Sandra’s child in a hail of frightened police bullets.

I could hear the conversation going down, the policeman approaching, asking them for their particulars, the usual drill.  For a brief moment, the talk became muddled, as if the phone had been put down and covered.  That’s the time that a parents’ mind will run wild; mine damn sure did.  But after a moment, my son came back on.

He sounded OK; the officer had given them directions to where they were going.  Everyone was buckled; he’d noticed that and told them to be careful and had sent them on their way.  My son was expecting some aggravation and when he didn’t get the grief, I hoped it’d created a teaching moment for him.

But Patrick Lynch will have you believe that parents such as myself or the mayor are teaching our children to hate and antagonize the police; and that’s something I can truthfully say no minority parent is doing.  How do I know that?

Because to do so is to hand your child a death sentence; plain and simple.

On the other hand, what message is Lynch giving his scions newly graduated from the academy and soon to take to the streets of New York?  Is his a message of unity, of tolerance, understanding and dedication to the sanctity of all lives and not only those of policemen?  Or is his a message of kill them before they kill us?

As a minority parent, I know what I think I hear in his words.  The question becomes, what do you hear?

Photo, Lion Waiting in Namibia by Kevin Pluck-Flickr, licensed under CC by 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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Filed under Justice, Life and Society, Opinion

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