Growing up in Baltimore City, I was never directly taught to fear police officers. It was a learned behavior over time. My mother always taught us to turn to the police if we were lost, or if anyone hurt us. “Officer Friendly” is what he or she was once called. My experiences as a child had not left me numb to law enforcement. I had no reason to fear them. It’s a different feeling as an adult. It is a feeling of knowing that sudden moves, a lack of eye contact, the assumed presence of an attitude, or a misunderstanding could mean the difference between life and death.
As an adult, I still have yet to have had a bad experience with police officers. I haven’t been pulled from my car. I haven’t been pepper sprayed. I haven’t been taser or threatened. And although such incidences have not been my reality I still find myself slightly nervous whenever I am pulled over. My registration has been renewed. My children are buckled in properly. I have valid insurance. And I have no warrants. I should feel pretty safe. Most times though, I do not. I make sure my license and registration are in hand because I don’t want to have to reach for them after the officer gets to my door. I smile. Say “yes.” And tell the officer to have a nice day. I know it’s not every cop mistreating citizens, nor is it every cop abusing their power. But my mind does not let me see anything else. This is a person that could take my life if he or she had “probable cause.” That is the image I have grown to see through the window.
I often wonder though what is it my son sees. Unlike when I was a child, our conversations, regarding police officers, are more so a delicate cross between police safety and police brutality. I was never taught how to stand or where to place my hands when confronted by the police. But my son is. I was never taught that some cops are good and some cops are bad, and that you never know which one you’re going to get. But my son is. I would bet any amount of money that my son is slightly confused by police officers. They give him handshakes and say hello. And then in a day or so there is a report of another African American being killed. And sometimes it’s a child. How do you continuously explain death to an eight year old without taking away a piece of them that believes police are still our friends?
When LeBron James mentioned that he was scared for his oldest son, and that he isn’t too confident about his son returning home if he was pulled over by the police, he was expressing a very real fear. A fear that many parents have; that if their child just so happens to be pulled over on the right night by the wrong cop that a story could have a completely different ending. My son is funny, bright, talkative, and inquisitive. These are traits people, including myself, have grown to love and acknowledge as positive. Nevertheless, if a police officer was to pull him over, that officer would not know how bright he is. A police officer will not know how funny he is. And a police officer may not value a person that likes to state his case and ask questions. The very thing that makes my son who he is could very well be the reason he becomes a victim.
I do not advocate for violence against police officers. Many of these individuals put their lives on the line to protect and serve, and just as they cannot always distinguish between who is good or who is bad, neither can we simply because they are wearing the same uniform, but those are my feelings. The feelings of others are sure to differ because our experiences differ. How one interprets their interaction, or an interaction between an officer and a loved one, are sometimes going to lie on separate ends of a spectrum. A provocative question that crosses the minds of many is “So what do we do?” I can say keep teaching your child the difference between right and wrong. I could say continue to explain that not every cop is bad. Alternatively, I could say just follow the rules and everything should work itself out fine. However, the problem these words present, regardless of who says them or how eloquently they are phrased, is that they do not bring very much confidence. See, it’s one of those things that you can never completely prepare yourself for, let alone your child. For all of the preparation you can provide it still feels as if it comes down to chance… and being on the right side of it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Latanya Muhammad is an educator, group facilitator, and 100% a wife and mom. If you would like to read more of her posts visit www.shetanagain.com. And if you want to weigh in on the action, feel free to direct all feedback and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. See ya'!