“Mom! Dad! I’m home!” Joyous football cleats pounded the hardwood floor at the front entrance. My back was already hurting because I knew it would take heavy duty cleaner, a mop, and a long prayer to Jesus to prevent the dirt and grime from the soccer field from staining my perfectly clean floor. Instead of yelling, I took a deep breath to settle my bubbly stomach because the conversation I was about to have requires complete composure and carefully constructed sentences to get my point across. The ‘keep your dirty shoes off my clean floor’ speech could wait until another day. A day that wasn’t clouded by a tough speech that would ultimately lead to anger, tears, confusion, and probably frustration. Seated silently next to me in our master bedroom, my husband gently covered my shaky hand with his to reassure me that this was the right time to take his innocence. The gentle rub of his thumb across the back of my hand reassured everything I was thinking.
“Junior!” My husband called. “Come in here, we need to talk to you.” I took in another deep breath so I could later remember the feeling of the last time my son would ever be a child. The last time my black son would ever look at himself as JUST a child.
“Mom, are you okay?” Junior cautiously entered the room afraid that he forgot to do a chore or did something in school that was coming back to bite him in the butt.
“I’m fine baby.” I said unsure if that was the first lie I’d ever told him. “We just have to talk to you about a very serious issue.”
“What is it ma?” His concern and curiousity at it’s peak.
“Your almost 15 Junior,” My husband took over seeing I was barely keeping it together. “We know that once you get your license you will want to go out and do things with your friends. As long as you are keeping your grades straight and you’re coming home on time we have no problem loaning you the car occasionally.”
“I know Dad. You and I already talked about a man’s driving responsibility.” He said still unsure where this was coming from. “No more than one person in the car, no females, home by 9, no speeding.”
“That is correct son. But there is one more set of rules we need to cover. Do you know what to do when you get pulled over by the police?”
“No, but you only get pulled over if you’ve ran a red light or you’re speeding. I promise I’m not going to do that so I won’t ever have that problem.” The cockiness he was gifted from his fathers side of the family was coming out.
“Not necessarily son…” My husband began going into detail about how some cops do not only pull over law breakers. He told him how some cops will see the color of his skin and assume that he has already broken a law even without there being any evidence. Together we explained that no matter what, his first responsibility is to get home to us safely and if that means doing/saying something outside of his comfort zone then so be it. I could see the confusion and anger rising in my sweet boy as we explained to him that some cops will ask him to lay on the ground or put on handcuffs and he is to silently comply until he is able to get home or call us. My husband got up from the King size bed and demonstrated how to show and tell the cop where his wallet, registration, and license were. The two most important men in my life ‘practiced’ how a simple procedure could go deadly if these unwritten laws were not followed to the T. And in that moment I mentally kicked myself because I would’ve never thought that 25 years after a Prince William County cop tried to kill me that I would be explaining to my son the same procedure that failed me in my time of need.
…This is how I imagine ‘The Talk’ will be when I have kids. All across America, everyday, parents have ‘The Talk’ with their children hoping to spare them of mistakes that cannot be undone. When most people are giving’ The Talk’ they’re telling their kids the common but uncomfortable story of the birds and the bees. However, when you are BLACK in America, there is a part 2 to ‘The Talk’ that no parenting book explains. This is when the parent (or parents) give a step by step guide to not going to jail or worse….death! For all my non-melanated viewers, believe it or not, there are different variations of ‘The Talk” but there are a few common steps that I will break down for you:
- Do not talk unless spoken to (especially if you are a passenger)
- If you have a weapon tell them exactly where it is and what kind. (NEVER reach for it!)
- If you can record (audio or visual) do so!
- Have your license and registration in an easily accessibly area (preferably both in the same area)
- Before you reach for the info…ASK if you can get it and tell where you are getting it from
- End every sentence with ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ (even if they show you no respect you give them all it you can muster)
- Follow every instruction and if you do not understand the instruction ask for it to be repeated or simplified
- ‘Am I being detained?” Is the only question you should ask. If the answer is no, sit still and say a prayer it’ll be over soon. If the answer is yes, ask how soon for your lawyer or your phone call.
Every black person reading this is going ‘Mmhmm’ because they know these rules better than most people know the Bible. These are the key rules in black society whenever you are in a situation that is controlled by white people. They are engraved in us just like our melanin even if we don’t want to acknowledge them. Business meetings, grocery shopping, and doctors appointments, can all be a sour or sweet occasion if we aren’t mindful of the rules. I remember when I was a senior in high school and after watching a halftime step show with my coach, she asked, “Why is stepping so angry? They never smile!” I can’t for the life of me remember what my actual response was but I do remember thinking because slavery wasn’t the happiest of times for us and this was the only way we were allowed to entertain ourselves and get out our aggression without being seen as a threat by Massa. I wasn’t offended by her question but just imagine how far left that convo could have gone if I said what I was thinking or if I didn’t know her well enough to know she was genuinely unaware of the reason. This was a relatively harmless example of following The Rules. And let me be completely honest, even if you follow The Rules there is absolutely NO guarantee they will get you home safely. In fact, there are several times The Rules failed. In fact, I was 19 years old the first time The Rules almost got me killed…
*Warning the following depiction is 100% disturbing, graphic, and something I have never told anyone. Mom, I sincerely apologize because I never told you the WHOLE story…
I was at my best friend Darion’s house hanging out with some high school friends. It was my first weekend home from college so I was excited to see all my friends but it was almost curfew time and I had to be at my house in less than 15 minutes or else! My friend (lets call him Frank) needed a ride home so I was rushing to get to his house. Now, I take full responsibility for this next part. I hit the curve too fast and I ended up cutting off a car when I was merging onto Route One North. What I didn’t know was that the car I cut off was a Prince William County police car. I drove about 2 miles before they put on the flashing lights. Nervously I pulled over and began going over my checklist in my head. I had my license and registration in my lap. Both hands were on the steering wheel. I don’t believe in guns, I don’t drink or do drugs and I warned Frank to be on his best behavior (as if he didn’t already know).
“Evening ma’am, license and registration.” I handed it to the officer without speaking. He examined my credentials and took them back to his car to run through his system. My record was clean so I let out a small sigh of relief. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” The officer returned to my car with his partner shining a light into all the windows on the opposite end of the car. “No sir.” I put my hand out expecting to get my license and registration back. “I’m not giving your license back until you tell me why I pulled you over.” At this point I was confused because as far as I knew, it wasn’t ticket-worthy to cut off someone it was just bad driving. “I guess it’s because I accidentally cut you off a couple miles back.” He looked at me and laughed. “Get out of the car.”
“Was that not the right answer sir?”
“Get out of the car, NOW!” He reached toward his weapon and I immediately started shaking. I followed his step by step instructions and sat down on the curb with my hands behind my back. They handcuffed Frank and I and we sat on the sidewalk in silence praying we wouldn’t go to jail. The partner with the flashlight opened the car doors and went through every inch of my car as if looking for something we were hiding. He pulled up rugs and compartments I didn’t even know my car had. The original officer was in the squad car talking on the radio. He came back to where we were sitting, my wrists were throbbing and my eyes were stinging with tears.
“Now, are you ready to tell me WHY I pulled you over.”
“Are my tags expired?” I said sobbing.
“Tell me WHY right now!” He yelled and I cried harder praying my mom would somehow sense I was in trouble and come for me. The harder I cried the more he laughed. And that made me angry. Frank said nothing, he sat quietly with his head down, sobbing into his North Face Jacket.
“I’ve never had a ticket sir, my license isn’t expired sir, my tags aren’t expired sir, I wasn’t speeding sir, I didn’t run a red light sir, I don’t drink sir….”
“FOR.WHAT. REASON.DID.I.PULL.YOU.OVER?” His laugh was diabolical. He spoke the words as if the answer was obvious and I was an idiot for not knowing the answer. I couldn’t answer. I just remember crying so hard all I could see in front of me was a blurry shadow of my red car. I could still hear his partner unzipping my bookbag and purse. Going through them wildly like he was trying to destroy my things. We sat there for what felt like hours! Every few minutes, he would start yelling and I stopped responding. This angered him. The final time he came to us he stood on my left side, he asked his question as he pulled out his gun and placed it at my left temple. I froze….literally. My entire body went cold. I stopped sweating and my body felt like ice. I screamed louder than I ever did on the football sidelines.
“What are you doing man!? It’s not that serious!” The voice rang out. “Can’t you see she’s terrified!?” Frank finally spoke. The partner stopped going through my car and came over to the curb. Frank moved his cuffed hands close enough to touch the side of my pinky finger. He was saying goodbye. We were both gonna die! The officer still had his gun to my head, his partner stared at me as if trying to figure out a puzzle piece that was missing.
“I’m going to ask one more time, GIRL. And you’d better get this answer right.” The officer said shifting his weight back and forth. I could see his shadow swaying back and forth.
“He’s not fucking around little lady!” The partner said. Frank kept rubbing my pinky. “It’s okay Janae, don’t answer him.” He repeated it as if he didn’t believe what he was saying.
“Im 19, I go to Morgan State University. I’m home for the weekend. I went to Potomac High School right up the street. I was a cheerleader. I have a single mom who is expecting me home right now…” I remembered a crime show I watched that hypothesized that if you tell your kidnappers small facts about you they see you as a human being. I’m pretty sure I told them everything from my birth story all the way to the age I lost my virginity.
“Holy SHIT!” the partner yelled cutting off my monologue. “Williams, Potomac High School. CHEERLEADER.” It took the hot headed cop a second to comprehend the train of thought his partner had. But as soon as the light bulb turned on, he lowered his weapon.
“Do you know Officer Jones?” The partner asked with a shaky voice. I didn’t answer.
“DO YOU KNOW OFFICER JONES, GIRL?”
“…he’s my god father.” I said unsure how this effected my outcome. I’m not sure everything unfolded from there. I do know that quickly we were uncuffed and allowed back into the car. The partner gave my license and registration back and ‘apologized’ on behalf of the both of them. Frank and I sat in the car without a word for awhile after the cops sped off. In shock. Terrified to move or breathe…
And I know what you’re thinking…Janae thats two ‘bad’ cops out of the entire police force in the world. And although I would love to live in a world where the majority of cops are good decent people who do their job correctly 100% of the time…that unrealistic. Do you know that there is not ONE government agency in the US that keeps track of the exact amount of police shootings. The number is ESTIMATED to be no less than 400 each year! Understand, that according to the FBI website the only number they keep track of is ‘justified’ police shootings. This means that the 400 shootings each year are accepted by the government as being necessary to maintain order. NO ONE IN THE U.S KNOWS HOW MANY PEOPLE ACTUALLY DIE FROM COPS! In fact, the Bureau of Justice stopped collecting data on arrest-related police deaths in 2014. One news source estimates that the actual number is somewhere close to 1000 police shootings a year! Why are Americans so violent? Civilians, police, military….we’re always shooting at each other!
Here’s a comparison: England and Wales has roughly 56 million people while the city of Baltimore has about 622 thousand. According to an independent police monitoring agency, from 2010-2014 62 people died in England and Wales police custody. In Baltimore City, 31 people died in a single year. Which means that as a citizen of Baltimore you are 50 times more likely to be killed by the police. English citizens are 100 times LESS likely to be shot by police than Americans…and don’t get me started on the race of the majority of these ‘justified’ shooting. I’ll keep it simple…its safer to be white in this country than it is to be brown.
Back to the point of this whole post: At 19, I had my innocence stolen from me and I wish that I could guarantee that the next generation won’t have to deal with the possibility of never going home to their family. What are WE as a human race, as Americans going to do? Turn the other cheek and hope that its not us? My heart breaks for the families that have lost CHILDREN, fathers, brothers to any type of violence but especially for the families that suffered violence at the hand of the same people who are supposed to protect us. #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesWontMatterUntilBlackOnesDo
k, good talk
PS. This post is in memory of Freddie Gray, the 1 year anniversary death of Philando Castille& Terence Crutcher, the memory of sweet Trayvon Martin, Jordan Edwards, & Sandra Bland. You all are my cousins, my friends, my neighbors, my brothers, you are ME! Rest in Peace we will never forget you!