What Do I Tell My Son About the Value of His Life?


On my way to pick up my son from school, emotionally paralyzed, my mind in a fog, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to tell him that, once again, a Black man’s life wasn’t important enough to charge the officers who savagely killed him, even when the murder was caught on video for the world to see. How will my teenage son respond to this news, only a few days after darren wilson’s tragic non-indictment?  What kind of psychological effect will society’s blatant disregard for Black life have on his self-esteem?

My wife and I have raised our son to be socially-conscious and culturally-aware. We’ve had “the talk” more times than I can count. But is that enough to stop the world from labeling him a “thug” just because he’s Black? He knows how to interact with police to minimize any possible friction, should he ever be randomly stopped. But it’s clear that the police doesn’t always know how to interact with citizens, no matter how harmless they are. But it’s bigger than the cops. My son is painfully aware that the people who make up the grand juries that declined to indict Mike Brown and Eric Garner’s killers aren’t cops but everyday people like teachers, doctors, bus drivers, grocery store workers, housewives, moms, dads, and other common folk. Is his life worth less in the eyes of those ordinary people he interacts with on a daily basis….the same ordinary people whose decision absolved the killers of Black men?

My son watches the news and hears police chiefs, judges, commentators, legal experts, lawyers, and other pundits tell him to trust the judicial process, even when we know that those who are in charge of this process are often liars who manipulate the truth to fit their agenda. He listens to these so-called experts nonchalantly explain why the cops are justified in their actions while millions around the world protest a broken system. My son’s coming of age during the era of Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Aiyana Jones, John Crawford, Tarika Wilson, Rekia Boyd, Jordan Davis, and so many more. He’s part of the #blacklifematters generation because that statement is as true today as it was centuries ago. He’s seen the system fail repeatedly and knows that this country has a long history of racial injustices it’s never honestly dealt with. He’s seen the stats and knows that every 28 hours, a Black man is killed by a police officer or vigilante, or that Black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. Should he be blamed for having little faith in this brand of justice?

My younger daughter, albeit too young to grasp the severity of what is unfolding, clearly sees that something is wrong. While watching Bob McCullouch announce wilson’s non-indictement a few days ago, she stomped her feet and punched the couch. She was hurt. She thought about her older brother. I probably should have sent her out of the room to shield her heart and mind from this madness but she lives in a world where this is a reality that can’t be ignored…even in elementary school where her peers discuss the news regularly.

My son’s a good kid. He does well in school, has a sharp sense of humor, likes video games, and loves animals. In many ways, he’s a typical teen. He also possesses a deep understanding of his ancestral roots, something my wife and I know is absolutely crucial to a child’s healthy development and well-being. Sadly, no amount of “good” parenting can prevent self-proclaimed vigilantes, like Zimmerman, or cops who are judged unfit for duty, as is the case with the officer who killed 12 year old Tamir Rice, from their deep-seated racism and trigger-happy inclinations. And as a parent, that scares me to death.

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