The Visible Man: The ABCs of Black Male Safety

 

“Officer, Don’t shoot!  Please don’t kill him!” He’s just 12 years old!  If you got to kill someone, kill me instead!”

-A distraught mother

 “Yes, I feel guilty and relieved. I get on my knees every morning and scream to my Jesus, Thank you Lord, for protecting me from misery. Death knocked at my door, but it didn’t happen to me.”

-Mary, a mother of three adolescent boys

“The white policeman shot my son as if he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.”

-Walter Scott’s father, North Charleston, SC

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My Dear Readers,

Every African-American male in this country who drives a vehicle has traveled by bus, or has been an air passenger has been a victim of racial profiling by police or other law enforcement agencies, whether they know it or not.

Regardless, of education, socio-economic status, class, or income, all black males are vulnerable to being viewed as a threat simply due to the color of our skin, and as a result, being targeted as such.

Targeting (in terms of human interaction):

  • A person, object, or place selected as the specific aim of an attack.
  • To look at or examine something or someone carefully in order to find something concealed.
  • A person or thing against whom criticism or abuse is or being directed.
  • To look at or beneath the superficial aspects of to discover a motive, reaction, feeling or basic truth.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that racial profiling violates the constitutional requirement that all persons be accorded equal protection of the law. Understanding that racial profiling violates the protection requirement of the constitution, why do police officers continue to engage in such practices?

1) Because they hold the stereotypical belief that a particular individual of one race or ethnicity (in this case, black) and gender (in this case, male) is more likely to engage  in criminal behavior and,

2) They hold the power in determining who receives protection as indicated in the law and who receives enforcement of the law.

An example of being the recipient of enforcement is the following:

“In Newark, New Jersey, on the night of June 14, 2008, two youths aged 15 and 13 were riding in a car driven by their football coach, Kevin Lamar James.  All were African American.  Newark police officers stopped their car in the rain, pulled the three out, and held them at gunpoint while the car was searched.  James stated that the search violated his rights.   One officer replied in abusive language that the three African- Americans didn’t have rights and that the police “had no rules.”  The search of the car found no contraband, only football equipment.”

The actions and words of the police officers words directly reflect the belief upheld in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, where the US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that a black man has “no rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

Keeping that in mind, the past few months nationwide have been severely psychologically impactful within the African American community, specifically males.

  • West Memphis, TN 5/19/17– a police officer fatally shoots a 12-year-old who he observed having a weapon in his waistband. Upon further review, it was discovered that the weapon was a toy.  The incident is under administrative review.
  • Tulsa, OK 5/18/17– a white female police officer was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist in 2016.
  • Balch, TX 5/2/17 – a 15-year-old black male riding in a vehicle is shot and killed by a white male police officer. The officer is dismissed from the police force and currently charged with murder.
  • North Charleston, SC 5/2/17– former police officer pleads guilty for violating the civil rights in the shooting death of an unarmed motorist. During a previous trial, a jury deadlocked without a verdict in which the video evidence shows the former officer firing six shots into the back of the fleeing motorist.
  • Nashville, TN 2/10/17- a police officer shot and killed a black male during a physical confrontation following a traffic stop for running a stop sign.
  • Minneapolis, MN, 1/24/17– a police officer was charged with second-degree assault with intentional discharge of a firearm for shooting into a vehicle with six occupants. The officer acknowledged firing into the car when the driver was no longer a threat to his safety.

Despite the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, it is the black man’s reality in America that when it comes to daily interaction with the police “there is no guarantee of protection for those of our complexion.” 

  • How do we insure our physical safety and emotional wellness?
  • How do we protect ourselves from unreasonable search and arrest?
  • How do we protect our children?

 The ABCs of Safety: Black Males: & The Police

We can transform the way in which we interact with the police. Where the police have the “power” and authority, we can adapt strategies to empower our children, adolescents and ourselves.

One such strategy is the therapeutic model of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness.  The objectives of this model are to minimize the amount of  psychological trauma that may result from interacting with the police and to improve your opportunities for a safe withdrawal from the encounter. This is achievable through the following:

  • Advocacy– Know when to hold or show your cards. Know when to speak and what to say.
  • Balance– Remember that your power lies within you, and cannot be taken from you without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom. 
  • Calmness- Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world. Use this to defuse the situation.

When you encounter the police:

  • Know that the police officer will ask you for identification, and that it is legal for them to do this.
  • Know that your identity will be verified in a criminal database to identify any warrants or other notices against you.
  • Know that the police officer will be looking for suspicious behavior from you and from anyone with you.
  • Be prepared for a possible stop and search of your personal space and belongings.

What do you do when you are stopped by a police officer?

  •  Keep your hands open and exposed. Immediately tell the officer:  I AM UNARMED.  I AM NOT A THREAT TO YOU.
  • Always comply and follow the police officer’s instructions. Speak in a respectful tone.
  • If you are under the age of 18, inform the police officer of your age and be sure to request that your parent, legal guardian, or legal representative be present.
  • If you choose not to speak, inform the police officer of your intent to remain silent until you have representation. After that, immediately stop talking.
  • Use your powers of observation. Document the incident and any concerns regarding any behavior during the encounter.
  • Remember to get the date, time, and location, the license plate and vehicle number of the police officer and the name of the department the officer works for.
  • If needed, file a complaint with the local sheriff or police chief’s office.
  • Remember that the police officer is entitled to use deadly force if they feel physically threatened.

Knowing and understanding your ABCs can help you maintain the demeanor and mental clarity to make sure that you correctly and safely advocate for yourself, maintain your internal balance, and project an air of calmness into the situation.

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Concluding Words

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you gonna get.”   Forrest Gump (1994)

I recently saw a YouTube video where three black boys around 12 years old were playing basketball in their front yard.  A police cruiser pulls up, the police officer draws his weapon and assumes a defensive position behind the door of the vehicle.  The police officer yells at the kids, “get on the ground, get on the ground.  The kids, shocked and scared, complied with the directions.  The mother comes out of the house screaming and crying “don’t kill my babies.”  The police officer tells her “Mam, go back into the house.  The scene ends with no shots being fired.  Good outcome?  No one hurt. Really?

Welcome to the Rites of Passage for black adolescents. This is the starting point of their psychological trauma.  They will never forget the incident in which a police officer drew a weapon and placed their lives at risk.

Sadly, this scene has become normalized procedure for police departments and is repeated on a daily basis in the lives of black males.

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Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night,

Wake up in the morning,

And my son is still alive;

I have won.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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Until we speak again….The Visible Man.

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At The Crossroads: Trauma and Tragedy on Mother’s Day

“The car was driving aggressively towards the officer, prompting the shot.”

– Jonathan Haber, Police Chief, Balch Springs Police Department

“In an hurry to get the statement out, I misspoke.”

-Police Chief Haber (following the review of the police body camera)

“Our teenage sons can’t sleep at night.  They are either sleeping in the bed with us or sleeping with all the lights on.

When they fall asleep, they are having night terrors of seeing their brother murdered right there in front of them.

When they dream, they see Jordan, with smoke coming out of his head from the shot.  That’s what they were forced to see.

Our four-year-old daughter, who has accidentally overheard what happened, is drawing pictures of her big brother with a hole in his head.  What are we supposed to say to her?”

-Odell Edwards, Jordan Edwards’ father

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My Dear Readers,

My heart is heavy.  In my previous blog At The Crossroads: Empowerment When Playing The Game Is Not Enough, I was chided for perceived criticism of black parents seeking safety and protection raising their children in suburban communities.

Last week the Edwards family, a two parent African-American family with three teenage sons and a four year old daughter who reside in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, were the living the American dream.  Today, as the nation prepares for the upcoming annual Mother’s Day celebration, they have become just another black family preparing to bury their son, living a uniquely American nightmare.

Following the shooting death of Jordan Edwards, the police chief, without having reviewed the evidence, moved quickly to assert that the officer shot in self-defense.

There is, of course, the societal belief that these young black males were either gang members or malcontents involved in criminal activity, and therefore, got what they justly deserved.  As it turns out, they were simply kids at a neighborhood party who had left out of a sense of responsibility as it had got too crowded and rowdy.

As reported by Shaun King from the New York Daily News:

“Police swarmed the car, which was their dad’s personal vehicle, and forced all of the boys out at gunpoint.  The police, cursing and yelling, expressed no concern for Jordan.

As police demanded that the boys face away from them and walk backwards with their hands held above their heads, one of the cops, according to the sons, loudly mocked them for not knowing their left from their right.  They had just seen their brother shot in the forehead with a rifle.

At that point, Vidal, Kevon and their friend, who was in the car with them, were not only traumatized beyond comprehension, they were seriously wondering if they’d be shot and killed next.

What they were arrested for was being black kids in their own car, obeying the law, while witnessing their brother shot in the face by police, but no one could quite tell the the truth about that.  My guess is that the police hope they will find something-drugs, alcohol, expired registration, or a weapon of some sort but they found nothing.  The boys, in the most traumatic moment of their lives, had been profiled and detained for no reason on top of it all.”

There are countless variations on quotes exhorting us to never give up.  One variation is “Bad things happen; what matters most is that you get up and keep going.”

The Edwards family represents the embodiment of the American middle class family.  When closing one’s eyes, what does one see? A two-parent family residing in a suburban community, well respected, churchgoers with three teenage sons attending the local high school with no history of disciplinary concerns and unknown to the local police or judicial authorities.

Jordan Edwards was a straight A student, athlete.  He was everything his parents wanted him to be: smart, kind, hardworking, giving and a lover of sports

Now they have buried him one week before Mother’s Day.

The Edwards family also represents the embodiment of the nightmare for black families although breathing the same air, living in two alternative universes.  I am reminded of a recent Subaru auto sales commercial directed at two racial groups one white, the other black.

In the “white commercial,” it focuses on a little white boy growing up and driving his father’s car off to college with graying dad, mom standing with the family dog, with a prideful look waving farewell as he goes off to explore his new world.  In the “black commercial,” the teenager tells his mother that he’s taking the car to see his friends.

One commercial celebrates the bright and hopeful future of a confident and secure young man and the pride of his parents as he leaves home The other leaves out the truth of the stress and anxiety of the parent in quiet contemplation, fearing for the safety of her son and not being able to rest until his feet are heard back in the home again.

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Concluding Words

In his article, Shaun King writes that:

“The police have actually asked if they could attend the funeral, but they haven’t apologized for what they have done.”

It may be incredulous to some that the police would even ask to be in same space of those who have suffered severe psychological trauma by one of their own.  Or, it may be seen as an act of human connection on the part of the police reaching out to the family and the community.

The truth of this incident is the fact that psychological trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self.   Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards’ future is over.  His family will forever be impacted by this event as well as the understanding that other black families continue to be  at risk for a similar experience.

The tragic death of Jordan Edwards reaffirm that our children represent our Achilles Heel, the soft area that we cannot protect from race related aggression.

Rather than focus on protecting our young people from racial strife, we should engage in empowering strategies that will also focus on healing the psychological wounds they are bound to continue to encounter in their lives.

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“’To err is human’ is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error.  In some cases there is no room for errorNone.

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Ten Flashes of Light

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Until the next crossroads.  The journey continues…