The recent killings of black males by police are unsettling and upsetting to us all. But it is especially burdensome to parents of dark-skinned sons. We worry about their safety. We worry if we have taught them how to conduct themselves in a manner that will prevent them from being misunderstood — from being seen as threatening. We worry that what we say will scare them about the people whose jobs are supposed to be for their safety and protection.
My subconscious fear of something happening to my son because of the color of his skin surfaced when he was 10 years old. He had gone to his friend’s house. After two or three hours, I called the house to check how he was doing. I was informed he and his friend had gone to downtown Eagle.
Maybe it was overreacting, but I let the parents of his friend know I was not pleased with their decision. My fear was based on my perception that if anything silly happened, my boy would be blamed simply because he did not look like others.
From that moment on, I started discussions with my son about being careful and about what to do if a police officer stops him. Strange, but I somehow felt he had been a good learner when he was stopped for a traffic infraction and later told me how the policeman was nice to him.
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On the other hand, if you have ever spent time driving around in a police patrol vehicle, you may have had a glimpse of how unfortunate killings can happen in a moment. About 15 years ago I was hired to do training at the Idaho police academy. I wanted to have firsthand experience of how state troopers do their job.
I was scared every moment the policeman pulled over a vehicle for a variety of infractions. In such situations, you never know what can happen. It is intense. That may be the moment someone loses their life.
I asked the policeman what he thought about when he left home to go to work in the morning. His response was disarming: “I may never see my family again.” That is not something many of us ever think about as we leave our home in the morning.
There are some underlying challenges facing our youth that cannot be ignored — drugs, broken families and a lack of direction or sense of belonging. In February 1999, Elizabeth Dole and I were presenters at the same conference. In her presentation, she stated that, “America, seeking to better herself, neglected that which made her good.” Looking at this from another perspective, people not only neglected what made them good, but the future is being buried, and those fortunate to survive another day seem to be traveling a difficult road that has no tomorrow.
The challenges that face our youth are well known. It will take each segment — families, churches, law enforcement, community leaders, the media and schools — to determine how we can all be part of the solution for our youth.
Let’s begin a conversation about how to address the real issues. In the late 1990s, there were a number of well-publicized killings by police in Boise. The city responded by hiring an ombudsman. The police force was trained. The community has seen use of deadly force by police decline — even though the population has increased significantly.
As a community, we, individually and together, can create a kinder, less destructive creature — one that allows us and our black sons not to fear those empowered to protect citizens and for them to be respected and honored for the myriad sacrifices they make daily.
Vincent Kituku is an author, speaker and founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope.