Carina Ray is an associate professor of African-American Studies at Brandeis University. In an op-ed in The New York Times titled “'Could the Police Kill Me, Too?” My Young Son Asked Me,'” she relates how her 9-year-old son had a simple question for his mother.
“'If I go, could they kill me, too?’ His question hung in the air like thick fog.”
Professor Ray was planning to take her son to a caravan protest in upstate New York, but the precocious lad already knew what every African-American parent knows, the police are just itching to gun down black children. So quite reasonably he wanted to know his chances of surviving the inevitable police brutality and the probable bloodbath.
“I cleared my throat. I had to be honest.”
“'I can’t guarantee how the police will respond’ I said. ‘Even peaceful protest can be risky.’”
“After a short pause, he said, ‘Let’s go.’”
Well, the boy is as brave as he is precocious, willing to literally put his life on the line for social justice. His mother is justifiably proud.
Except, there were no police at the protest, no doubt a great let-down after all of the anxiety, the worry, the raw sheer terror of Standing Up to The Man. It must have been like landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and finding “Welcome to Normandy” signs instead of confronting gunfire. What to do? Now how is Professor Ray’s little boy going to show his mettle and demonstrate his fearless bravery?
“We joined the rear of the long caravan and my son asked, ‘Can I roll down the window and yell, ‘Black Lives Matter?’”
“'Of course you can.’”
“The look on his face as he lowered the window was unmistakable. He felt empowered.”
Boldly rolling down the window of his mom’s SUV, manfully waving his little fist, and heroically hollering out an empty slogan into the empty spaces of upstate New York is the kind of courage unseen since the 101st Airborne charged up Hamburger Hill.
Now, maybe you think I am mocking this kid. That’s not my intention. I am mocking his mother, who shamelessly uses her son as a prop in this ludicrous tear-jerker of a story.
After some more parental boasting about her son’s cleverness and devotion to social justice, Professor Ray turns sad.
“For many black parents the transition from childhood to adolescence is marked by ‘the Talk,’ when we explain to our children how to stay safe, especially when confronted by the police. I didn’t expect to have it for another couple of years.”
Yes, “the Talk,” where African-American parents scare the daylights out of their children with Tales of the Boogie Man, White Racist Cops Who Enjoy Killing Black Boys with Total Impunity. And if I were a young black child, I guess I’d be terrified of how it’s Open Season on Blacks, or “legalized genocide” as some put it. I’m going to the corner store to buy a candy bar, minding my own business, when Boom, the police shoot me in the back and plant a gun on my body to cover up their cold-blooded murder. Scary stuff.
Well, first of all, this is needlessly (and shamefully) scaring young children for no good reason. Instead, common sense would be helpful, like being respectful towards the police, which is advice my parents gave me as a child. And don’t do drugs, and don’t steal things. In my family, that was just basic morality.
Of course, Professor Ray brings up the tragic story of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by a police officer in Cleveland. That was in 2014. And the sad fact is, given the realities of policing, innocent people of all races are occasionally mistakenly killed by police. But apparently the good professor can’t find any other examples to cite of police unjustifiably shooting black children.
What she might have found with just a cursory internet search are plenty of examples of young black children shot and killed by African-American men. It took me five seconds to find this (updated) story from today’s Chicago Sun-Times, “104 shot, 14 fatally, over Father’s Day weekend in Chicago.” Among the victims, five of the dead were children.
“Two hours earlier, a 3-year-old boy was fatally wounded when someone opened fire at his father while they were driving in Austin.
"The toddler, identified as Mekay James, was struck in the back about 6:25 p.m. when someone in a blue Honda pulled behind the black SUV the boy’s 27-year-old father was driving in the 600 block of North Central Avenue and fired several rounds, authorities said.
"A police source said the father was believed to be the intended target of the shooting.”
These are the realities in America. An African-American child is literally thousands of times more likely to be killed by an African-American male than to be wrongfully killed by the police. (And yes, when I lived in a certain bad neighborhood many years ago, I was constantly on guard, braced for being mugged or assaulted.)
So, the consequences of “the Talk” are to mislead black children into fearing the police, while also not warning them of some of the very real dangers they face. It’s insulting to our police, it’s degrading for our democracy, it’s immoral and dishonest, and worst of all, it’s dangerous for the children. Things need to change.
And I bet you dollars to donuts Professor Ray will not be writing about Mekay James, or be giving him a moment’s thought. That’s not going to make for fashionable conversation at a Brandeis faculty cocktail party.