“So, I got stopped by a cop today.”
I heard these words from my teenaged son, Anthony, one humid night in August 2011, words a mother never wants to hear. These words echoed in my head the night prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I did not have the strength to watch the grand jury decision. I could sense in my bones what the outcome would be and I knew my reaction would leave me tired and weary. So, I logged on to Twitter and let the tweets unfold in front of me.
I could not help but think about my son as I watched tweet after tweet flood my timeline. My son, Anthony, is about Michael Brown’s height and weight. He also started college in August, just like Michael was supposed to start the Monday after he was killed. Anthony played football at Hillhouse High School and is a musician, studying to be a music teacher. Anthony has also had a run-in with police.
It was just after Hurricane Irene and Anthony and I were staying at a hotel in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. The town was completely out of power. I worked long hours at 211 but felt relieved knowing my son was right next door if he needed me.
Anthony, stuck in the room with no power and a restless dog, decided to venture out to the only place in Rocky Hill that had power, the Stop & Shop. He put one ear bud in his ear, put his hands in his pockets and headed up the hill to the grocery store. He crossed Silas Deane Highway fairly quickly, since there was not anyone driving in the aftermath of the hurricane. He was the only person out walking in the street.
A police car pulled up next to him and an officer rolled down his window. He asked Anthony where he was from and where he was going. Anthony told him he was going to Stop & Shop and that he was from New Haven but staying in town at a hotel with me because I worked at 211 and needed to get to work. The officer asked Anthony how much money he had on him. Anthony told him: seven dollars. The officer asked what Anthony planned on buying with just seven dollars and Anthony said, “I’m going to buy a Lunchable.” The officer let out a surprised laugh and told Anthony to be safe, then drove off. Anthony went on his way and enjoyed his snack.
When I got off my long shift that night, Anthony was in the lobby waiting to tell me this story. At first I laughed, because leave it to my 15-year old giant football player to walk up a hill for a Lunchable after a hurricane. But then, I gathered my senses and the anger and worry was there. I can certainly understand the intent behind the stop, the need of an officer to make sure people are safe on his beat. But asking questions about the amount of money he had and what he planned on doing with the money crossed a line I am not comfortable with at all.
I thought about all the things that could have gone wrong. My eyes burned. The fear that gnawed at me his entire life sprouted arms and legs, climbed my spine and settled itself right on my shoulder. All parents worry about their children; it can’t be helped. But the burdens brought on by institutional racism only multiple the worry for the parents of beautiful, brown children.
These feelings necessitated that I use the event as a “teachable moment” to reiterate how he should properly respond to law enforcement, how he was in charge of keeping himself safe in these situations, how this would not be the last time he got questioned about where he was from and where he was going. I told him I wished it wasn’t going to be so hard for him, a beautiful, kind, intelligent brown boy.
There are so many similarities between Anthony and Michael Brown; it’s absolutely astounding how alike they are. Their body structure. Their walk. Anthony is Michael Brown. I have fits of worry so intense I cannot breathe sometimes. All I can do is exhale, send him out with wisdom, common sense and love and pray it is enough armour to bring him home safely.
Image by Mike Litch under the creative common license.