Innocence of a child forever gone…
It was a hot day in June 6 years ago almost to the date, when a group of adults were sitting at an awards ceremony with a large swath of black children, where we celebrated their accomplishments for the year. A box was dropped at one of the tables from a citizen who asked that we disseminated the literature within. they were tiny cards with instructions on “what to do when stopped by the police.” We braced ourselves and had a short but necessary conversation with the young people, in light of the fact they were heading to the township Fete later on that day.
That short conversation saved several young boy’s lives that evening. One of them was my son.
No one could have prepared me for the phone call I got that night around 10:30 from some frantic children who were beside themselves with fear and worry, that my child, was carted away in a police car, arrested. I could not make sense of what they were saying, so I asked where was he taken and headed to the station one township away from where I lived. What I found there was sheer pandemonium and a large group of black parents fit to be tied in the police station.
I said not a word to any of them but listened intently, while waiting for the dispatcher to acknowledge my presence. As I stood there praying for guidance, I watched an officer walk over to the Dispatcher and ask her who I was because I was too quiet. He instinctively treated me better than he had the other folks there and with respect asked what I needed. I said they had my son in custody. He asked who was my son and all I said was this: ” probably the most well-mannered child you have ever laid eyes on” and he immediately said ” That must be Charles and quickly ushered me into the back room where my son was sitting quietly looking hurt and afraid all at once.
I asked my son to be quiet and said to the Officer, ” why is he here? He replied, I am not sure ma’am the arresting officer said he would not leave the premises after a an altercation between two other young people and had no choice. I asked my son to quietly tell me what happened and this is what I heard which has since been corroborated by children and adults alike:
They had just gotten to the June Fete, when a fight broke out and the cops told them to leave. Those young men politely asked if they could go through a specific gate as a parent was awaiting their return so she could take them home and they knew no other way to get there..( Huge grounds) Cop said no and began throwing his billy club in the neck of one of my son’s friends who was moving slower than the others because he had a knee injury. He stopped and told the Cop, he was not being rude, he had an injury and he was hurting him.
The next thing they all knew, his friend was slammed face first into the ground and arrested. My son, fearful but knew he could NOT leave his friend there alone, asked the cop what did his friend do and the cop told him “nigger, if you do not want to meet the same fate, keep going. ” My son said tears started streaming down his face and he said ” why are they doing this to us? What have we done except follow instructions?’ Big mistake.
Cop called him a nigger again, called for back up and slammed him into the ground and cuffed him. At that point, my kid went silent because he remembered what we said to them earlier. The children and parents around watching this take place began screaming he was my child and had never been in trouble to no avail. He was searched, I-phone pulled from his pocket and he was asked how could he afford anything like this and that he must be a drug dealer. The only thing my son said was no sir but I think you just broke my hand.
My son said the arresting Officer looked a little uncertain as the people got more upset with taking him in and as they were heading to the Police Station began to realize he arrested someone who was incredibly respectful no matter what was said to him. At that point, I looked at the Officer in the room and asked him was my son under arrest and he said no ma’am, you can take him home but expect to hear from us. My son then looked at me and said, ” I think he broke my hand” Sure enough, in rough housing my child, his hand was broken.
It took every ounce of dignity I had, to kindly say goodnight to that Officer, gather up my child, and went to seek medical treatment. I then told all those parents in the waiting room to stop all the noise and begin to strategize how they can help their children. The next day, I filed a formal complaint with the police Department and the day after that, went to Human Relations Commission and filed a formal complaint there too. The Department was investigated and the hearing Officer who was white, said quietly to our Lawyer, ” Pursue this in court. This young man is believable.”
I cannot corroborate this but was told questions were asked in my township about what they knew of my kid; had he been arrested before? had he cut school etc. I was also told the answer was this; Not only is he a good student, he has never skipped school and has not even so much as a detention on his record. Shortly thereafter, we were offered something called the Youth AID Panel for first time offenders. We declined. Then, we got a summons for two misdemeanour charges to appear in court.
It got really interesting here. That Officer came into Court and said my son threw a glass bottle at a baby and threatened bodily injury as a result. I will never forget the horrific look on his face at the blatant lies and it was then he realized, justice would not be fair for him. He testified and the Judge threw out one of the two charges and told us we would could appeal the last one if we so choose or pay the fine. We politely said thank you and appealed.
Got to the higher court and our lawyer said the Judge we got, had a history of being unkind to minorities so it may not be good. We told her to do her best and the rest would be up to God. I will never forget when my son took the stand and began to speak. I watched the judge’s head pop up in surprise and he stopped the testimony to ask a few questions himself like what grade was he in, what subjects was he taking in school, had he ever been in trouble at all etc. He then asked if his parents were in the courtroom and he pointed to me. He continued with the testimony, listened to the officer again and after closing arguments said it was a clear-cut case of NOT guilty and he went further to say, he felt my son was targeted in not so many words.
We walked out of that courthouse almost a year later, with my child having no criminal records attached to his name. It was important that he knew from us that he did everything right, represented himself well and it paid off nicely for him. One problem: He was now afraid to get his license and drive any where and more importantly? he totally lost his innocence that day. When he went to college, he was followed and stopped every fifteen minutes because he was driving an 11-year-old Mercedes that his father purchased for him. We had to sell that car so he could keep his sanity.
I tell you this story with no hate, anger or ill will. I tell you this story because had he done things differently and had there not been a crowd of people witnessing what was taking place, he may have met with something other than a broken hand. He was taught by us, that he is to use his hurt and do better than anyone expects him to and as a direct result, he is almost ready to get degree number one AND two. He stays away from large crowds and always keeps in the back of his mind, that justice for him, is not the same.
That is what it feels like to be a parent of a black child; we did everything right; he is bright, well-mannered and on a trajectory to greatness. None of that meant a hill of beans to some rogue cop who only saw the colour of his skin. Imagine having to tell your child he cannot drive certain cars, go certain places, be seen with more than 2 black men in the same spot and the list goes on…. That is our existence, all day, everyday.
We are not asking you to feel shame; we ask for you to be allies when you see injustices like these taking place daily. It happens on our jobs, in our communities and Church has been our saving grace. That kind of pressure is almost too much to expect of any child much less ask him to deal with for the rest of his life.
The next time we see a boy of colour and we feel the need to judge, take a second look. then a third. That child belongs to someone who believes they are just as special as you see your own children. They may dress and sound differently but make no mistake about it; they are loved.
Side note: my son has since graduated from college at the age of 21 and is doing wonderful things with his life. He has been stopped by police several times since this incident and each time, he remained cordial. He remembers it’s the skin he lives in that makes him automatically suspicious and he has learned to adjust.