Austin, TX

What I Had to Teach My Black Son and Foster Son About the Police

Carol Lennox

Be polite and cooperative. Also be aware.

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Photo by Oscar Ham on Unsplash.

Be polite and cooperative when a police officer stops you. Not if, but when.

Don’t run from the police. If they raid a party you’re attending, stay still and raise your hands. If they come up to you, stay still and raise your hands.

They followed my instructions at one party where I had stayed parked outside when they went in. The party looked suspect, and I wasn’t leaving. Within ten minutes, A gang unit officer shone his mag light in my face. He asked what I was doing there, and I told him I was there to pick up my boys, and gave a quick description of them. He said, “Stay here. They’ll be right out.”

Thank God he was telling the truth. The gang unit rushed in, while most of the kids ran out the back of the tiny house, and out into the night. My son, Blake, and my foster son, Larry, came out, got into the car, and didn’t talk.

I had to prompt them to get the story. “Mom, the police rushed in and everybody ran but us,” my son said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“We put our hands up and stood there. The first cop asked what we were doing, and I said my Mom was out front to pick us up.”

He told us, “Yeah, she’s right out front. Go on and get out of here.” We were fortunate that night.

A few years later, in a similar situation, in a city next to ours, a car with three Black teenagers drove away from a party when the police came. A policeman shot into the car, killing one of the passengers. The teen was an athlete and an honor student. He could easily have been my son, or his foster brother. My kids were lucky.

A couple of years later, Larry and two of his friends who are also Black, were on the hiking trail near our house. Groups of teens, mostly White, had been gathering there frequently. That night the police from the neighboring small township entered the park. All the White kids ran. Larry and his friends stayed put, as I and their parents had taught them.

They weren’t harassed by the police, and in fact police gave only a ticket to one of them. Larry and another boy were arrested for traffic ticket warrants. Jail was still better than running and what might have ensued from three Black teens running from police. They were fortunate that night.

After Blake and Larry graduated high school, they told me of a party they’d attended out in the country, while still in school. I have no idea how I didn’t know. I was “that” mother. The one who had to know where they were going, who was going to be there, and had to talk to the adults who would be chaperoning. I guess there’s a loop hole in every system.

They told me the police had come, and they had run, jumping a fence to head into the woods. My blood runs cold to this day to think of it. They were fortunate that night. I told them so, and to never do that again

Since we’ve lived in Austin, Texas, my son has had only congenial encounters with the police. When he’s been stopped for having an inspection sticker out, the police officers were polite, and let him go with a warning. Austin is known as a liberal city, with low crime, despite the recent police brutality of firing rubber bullets and spraying tear gas at protesters. We’ve been fortunate here.

Fort Worth, Texas was a different story. We were profiled when I was driving, and he and his friends were in the car. He was called “boy,” by a cop who followed him to our house after seeing him litter. My son was in tears, and the police officer was rude to me. Racism was clear in this situation. Still, we were fortunate that these police encounters didn't end in violence.

Other officers were accusatory to him when we called the police about teen-aged white kids from across the street targeting my son with graffiti on our house. The officers questioned mhy son, a ten year old, as if he were the one doing something wrong.

On the other hand, two young, white, female officers chased those same white kids, and brought charges against one of them, then showed up at court to testify against him on our behalf. They were good police officers who didn’t buy into the racist system. We were fortunate when they showed up.

My foster son, Larry, was killed last year. Not by police. Two police officers, one retired and one not, and neither part of the investigation, have intervened with the detective for me in hopes of propelling the investigation.

One of them is Black and one is White. The detective is Hispanic. The crime hasn’t been solved, but I’ve been assured this detective solves his cases. I hope his being assigned the case will prove to be fortunate. These are all three commendable police officers.

Personal experiences like ours demonstrate how the law enforcement system is suffers from systemic racism. It also shows there are cops who are good people and excellent police officers. Individual officers can be hamstrung by a racist environment. Others propagate and benefit from the racist system. Some are racist and some try to be anti-racist and some officers, like many in society, are blind to their own prejudice. Some are toxic, and some are trying to serve and protect. The difficulty is in knowing which is which when your life is on the line.

Black people shouldn’t have to rely on being fortunate in encounters with the police. Interactions with police, who are employed by citizens to protect and serve us, should not be a luck of the draw. The outcomes of these interactions shouldn’t have to depend on whether we are lucky enough to get a good officer, who has good partners. Or a bad officer, who has good partners who will step in to stop police brutality.

The system itself has to be changed, from the inside out, or from the outside in, and preferably both. If we don’t make the changes, through reallocation of funding, racial bias testing, in-depth and ongoing diversity and sensitivity training, and empowering good police officers to follow their con, Black people will always have to depend on luck in encounters with the police.

Luck of the draw is too flimsy a net to rely on when your life hangs in the balance.

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My purpose is to inspire and inform. You can read more by me on Medium.com/@carollennox, and on the Good Men Project. I've had a lifetime of valuable experiences, and I want to share the lessons I've learned readily, or been forced to learn. I'm a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist, a mother to my amazing son, Blake Scott, whom I write about often. I also write about race, equality, social justice, sex, government, and Mindfulness, not in that order.

Austin, TX
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