Dear Visible Man,
I am a middle class African-American woman who has been married 25 years. I have two children, a girl (18), and a boy (13). I want to share a recent experience that occurred regarding the police and my 13-year-old son. My son loaned his cell phone to his friend, a boy his age, who in turn used the phone to make provocative and unacceptable texts to a girl his age.
The parent of the girl filed a complaint. During the investigation, the texts were traced back to my son’s phone. Although the police could not prove that my son sent the text, (his friend denies he sent it), the investigating officer stated that he was going to enter my son into the police database.
I am very frustrated. My son is in tears, fearing that he now has a record with the police. I admit that I may not have handled the situation well by berating him with “what did I tell you about loaning out your phone” and “ I told you so.” However, what I am most concerned about is that my son is now known in the police database and he is only 13 years old! My son is a good kid; he does well in school, does not use drugs/alcohol or is involved in gangs.
I am concerned as to how this may impact his future. Furthermore, I am fearful that this may be used to racially profile him should there be any indirect contact with the police. I am considering consulting with an attorney as well as filing a complaint.
What are your thoughts on this issue?
Seattle Area Mom
Dear Seattle Mom:
First, please allow me to congratulate you on the hard work and commitment you and your spouse have as well as the success in raising adolescents. Now let’s identify the issues:
- Your 13-year-old son being placed in the police computer database.
- Your response in how you handled the situation.
- Your concerns regarding your son being racially profiled.
Although you may be upset that a formal complaint was filed, imagine how you would respond if your daughter received a similar inappropriate text with threatening or sexually implicit language. It is appropriate for a parent to take steps to protect one’s child from psychological or physical assault.
Rather than take personal action, it is preferable that an outside party such as the police look into the matter.
That being said, it is apparent that your son made a poor decision in loaning out his cell phone to an individual who engaged in inappropriate behavior. It is apparent that the person who engaged in the inappropriate behavior is not stepping forward to take responsibility; your son is the one left “holding the cell phone.”
Young people must want to understand that when it comes to consequences for their behavior, the days of “kids will be kids” or “having a nice chat with Officer Friendly” are GONE. Officer Friendly is dead. He has been replaced by a computer database system that is shared by local policing jurisdictions throughout the state. Furthermore, it may be accessible by other forms of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Today it is all about accountability and consequences.
Your son is being held accountable for “loaning out his cell phone” to an individual who betrayed his trust. The consequence is that he is now placed in the local police database that will be shared with law enforcement agencies throughout Washington State. As upsetting as this may be, the plus side is that due to the inability to specifically place the phone in your son’s hands and affirm him as the “assailant”, the police are unable to forward the case to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.
I do have concerns regarding how you handled the situation with your son. First, understanding that you are angry and frustrated, be careful of the message you are giving while in this highly excitable emotional state. Second, berating him with “what did I tell you” and “I told you so” only serves to inflict more hurt within the emotional wound that exists.
Given your son’s emotional reaction i.e. tears, one can assume he may be feeling the consequences of both his actions and those of his “friend” who now is refusing to take responsibility due to fear of consequences. For now I would suggest the following:
- A respite period to reevaluate how the situation was handled.
- The gift of an apology and acceptance of responsibility on your part for the way in which your feelings were expressed.
- A clear understanding provided to your son regarding the consequences of being placed in the police computer database.
- A discussion with your son regarding the experiences learned from this situation.
What you have is a reasonable emotional reaction. Now, what is desired is a reasonable behavioral response when (and chances are it will reoccur) the same or similar situation presents itself again.
As an individual, parent and clinician, I too share your concerns regarding placement in the police computer database and racial profiling. I believe we live in a society whose stereotypes, biases and belief systems reinforce their fears about African-American males, specifically adolescents and young adult males.
Although there is no specific documented policy inherent in law enforcement or community policing, I believe there is a “unwritten policy” to document and place within the police computer database, as many African-American adolescents and young males and do so at every opportunity that is possible. In this way, this ever fearful society will be able to maintain a “tracking, paper trail or database” on the comings/goings on individuals belonging to this specific group.
As difficult as it may be for a parent to comprehend the following statement, I will say this: Given the limited choices and shuddering consequences, it is better that your son have this experience at age 13 rather than be placed in the criminal justice database system at 18. At least now, you and other responsible adults around him can influence and impact his behavior. At 18, it is too late, and he may become meat to be ground up in a vicious and unforgiving criminal justice and correction system.
You and your son have an opportunity to learn and benefit from this experience. Or, you can become a “blocker” and attempt to save him from a system (strategies & structures) waiting in anticipation to psychologically destroy and physically control him. As his parent and protector, you can enable him by hiring attorneys to minimize the damage. After you have spent thousands of dollars in attorney fees, you may achieve success somewhat.
However, what about the next time? Or, the time after that? Will you rescue him again? And after he becomes an adult and/or after your life has passed on, who will be there to assume the role of saving your son from a hostile society or a psychologically disabled/disempowered self?
Please share the following with your son. It comes from the Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life of the website Loving Me More:
A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.
The Visible Man