Death and Parenting in America: Stop Killing Our Brown Sons, By Linda Black ElkTweet
Timothy McVeigh was a white, Gulf War veteran responsible for the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. He was arrested soon after the bombing during a routine traffic stop. At the time of arrest, he admitted that he was carrying a concealed firearm, and he was also wearing a t-shirt that read, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” He was arrested without incident.
FBI agents arrested Ted Kaczynski, the white, Harvard graduate who was also known as the Unabomber, on April 3, 1996, at a cabin in the Montana wilderness. There were numerous firearms and even a live bomb in Kaczynski’s possession. He was arrested without incident, even though he was considered armed and very dangerous.
Eric Frein, a white “prepper” was suspected of killing one Pennsylvania trooper and wounding another in September 2014. He was found and arrested without incident in late October. In fact, he was taken away in the very handcuffs that belonged to the officer that he murdered. Frein was considered armed and dangerous prior to his arrest.
On August 30, 2010 John T. Williams, a homeless, 50-year-old, Native American woodcarver was shot four times by a Seattle police officer. At the time, Williams was simply crossing the street holding a block of wood and a pocket knife. The officer ran up behind Williams and although he was yelling at Williams, he neglected to identify himself as an officer and quickly shot Williams four times in the back and side. There had been no public complaints concerning Williams and witnesses did not report any threatening behavior on the part of the victim.
Mah-hi-Vist GoodBlanket was a Native American teen who had recently been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. During a particularly worrisome episode in December 2013, his parents called the police in an effort to protect their son from himself…it was a decision that Mah-hi-Vists’s parents would regret. Moments after entering the home, Mah-hi-Vist was shot a staggering seven times, including once in the head. He was also shot twice with a Taser. Police claim that he was wielding a knife, but GoodBlanket’s family refutes this claim. The officers who shot him were later cleared of all charges and even given the Medal of Honor for their “selfless service.”
On August 9, 2014, an unarmed, black teenager named Michael Brown was walking down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Witness reports vary, but an altercation with local police ended with Brown being shot at least eight times. The case has brought world-wide recognition to the issues of race and racism in the United States.
On November 22, 2014, a 12 year old black child was in a public park playing with a toy gun. Although dispatchers were informed that the gun was probably a toy, officers were sent to the park and two seconds…two seconds…two seconds after they arrived, Tamir Rice was fatally shot twice in the torso. He died in the hospital the next day.
As the mother of two, Native American boys who have long, braided hair and chocolaty-dark eyes, I live in fear that my boys might get gunned down by overly zealous citizen militias or police officers…gunned down on the same sacred lands that their ancestors fought and died to protect.
When it comes to law enforcement, I teach my children to be afraid, to be overly polite, to be unthreatening, and to be, above all, vigilant. I teach them to keep their hands visible at all times, and to speak softly. My boys cannot safely show “playful respect” towards police officers by talking about sports or the weather; they can’t speak to defend their rights or claim that a particular traffic stop, vehicle search, or property seizure is unjust or a violation of their Constitutional rights. I don’t allow my children to play with toy guns. I do not have the luxury of believing that my overly protective parenting or any illusion of “American family values” will save my sons from being killed in the streets. I would be remiss in my duties as a mother if I did not teach them to be afraid of anyone holding a firearm.
There are no lectures, movies, pamphlets, or family meetings that will protect my children from the violence of racism.
If you are a person of color with children, you are probably agreeing with me right now. If you are white, statistics say that you will believe my fears to be silly and unfounded. Most citizens of European decent do not feel the need to teach their sons to “put their hands up and spread their legs” immediately when confronted by law enforcement. But the bold truth is: the death rate due to police intervention is more than three times higher for people of color than for whites. We get shot and killed much more often by the very people who are sworn to protect us.
A dear friend, who is white, told me that she believes the Michael Brown shooting and the unrest in Ferguson had more to do with the breakdown of traditional family values than with the presence of racism in America. Perhaps Michael Brown shouldn’t have been walking the streets of St. Louis with his friends. Perhaps he did steal cheap cigars from a convenience store. Did he deserve to die? More importantly, if he were white, would he have been shot and killed for these offenses? I believe history says…no. I believe there is an unspoken policy of “shoot first, ask later” when it comes to people of color in America, and I believe law enforcement has given up on the idea that we can be safely incapacitated without delivering a fatal gunshot wound. Isn’t it devastatingly sad, frightening, and ironic that some of the most well-known, well-armed mass murderers in history, even cop-killers, can get arrested peacefully, but unarmed citizens and children of color are shot, choked, and harassed until they DIE?
If I sound angry and bitter, it is because I am.