Being a Black parent, especially of a black boy, and now a black girl as well, comes with the added onus of having to protect your child from a country that is out to get them, a country that kills someone that looks like them every 28 hours, a country that will likely imprison, him/her by their mid-thirties if they don’t get their high school diploma, and a country that is more than twice as likely to suspend them from school than a White classmate.

The fear has fueled a generational need for a portentous, culturally compulsory lecture that warns young Blacks about the inherent strikes against them; about the society that is built to bring them down. It is a harbinger of the inevitable, a wishful attempt at exceptionalism, passed down like an heirloom.

Every Black male I know has had this talk, and if you have not, and you are in this situation, you should. So many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference: Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t try to break up a fight. Don’t talk back to cops. Don’t ask for help. But they are all variations of a single theme: “Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.”

What rules, warnings, survival tactics are you giving your children as you raise them?[1] 

So what has been happening, and why has it happened? Unfortunately, the beating and killing of Blacks by police is not new. The following represent those who were beaten or killed by the police:

1991- Rodney King                                     2015- Walter D. Scott

1992- Wayne Green                                 2015- Freddie Gray

2006- Sean Bell                                            2014- Laquad McDonald

2009- Oscar Grant                                      2016- Philando Castile

2011- Kelly Thomas                                    2018- Antwon Rose II

2014- Eric Gardner (I can’t breathe)        2018- O’Shea Terry 

2014- Michael Brown                                2020- Breonna Taylor

                                                                2020- George Floyd (I can’t breathe) 

Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police in their lifetime. Black people who were fatally shot by police seemed to be twice as likely as White people to be unarmed.

We have evidence that tells us that action needs to take place. Some data recognizes the patterns of bad behavior among officers. For example, officers who had repeated negative marks in their files were more than three times more likely to fire their guns or use harsh de-escalation tactics than other officers. Officer Chauvin had 18 complaints before he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck. But carrying out disciplinary action, let alone firing an officer, is notoriously difficult in the United States.

Union contracts give officers protections that have been tied to increases in misconduct. One thing we need to do is take a hard look at those state laws and union contracts that provide either flawed or overly protective procedures that insulate officers from appropriate accountability. Statistics show that even officers who are fired for misconduct are frequently rehired at a rate of about 1%-3% after resigning or being dismissed from another department.

The above data highlights why it is more important that ever for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to have the talk with black children, tweens and teens. The talk should include:

What to do if stopped while driving:

  • Pull over to the safe side of the road if you see a police car with flashing lights behind you.
  • Answer the officer’s questions as succinctly as possible, without embellishments. 
  • Always have your identification handy; if the officer asks for your license and registration, get the officer’s permission before you reach in your pocket or your car’s glove compartment to get them. Remember you don’t want the officer to think you are reaching for a weapon.
  •  If the officer tells you to get out of the car, do it! Don’t give the officer any attitude, or any reason to claim you were hostile or difficult, because that is the quickest way to escalate the encounter. 

What to do if stopped while walking.

  • No matter what, never run away from the police.
  • Police have the right to stop you and ask your name, so if this happens tell the officer your name, but don’t volunteer any additional information.
  • Usually the officer has stopped you to determine if you are under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or in the possession of contraband. Be polite and courteous as possible.
  • Don’t curse or antagonize the officer.
  • There is a good chance the officer is stopping you because s/he believes you match the description from a suspect nearby. If that is the case, you won’t be able to talk your way out of the situation, so don’t say anything beyond what you are asked.

What to do if arrested:

  • Be polite and don’t contradict the officer’s reason for arresting you.
  • Try to stay calm and resist the urge to become loud or aggressive.
  • Use every ounce of your will power to resist the urge to say something to get them to release you, it’s not going to happen; you will likely just make things worse.
  • As soon as you call someone who can hire you an attorney to come to the station as soon as possible.  
  •  If your family members come to assist you, resist the urge to explain to them everything that happened, the police are likely recording every word you say. Tell them later.

It is a shame that we have to continue to have the talk, but with the protesting and the cry for change, and police reform, things can change.


Ron Burton

[1] Ebony Magazine 2013

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