by Mukesh Baral
“I remember when we found out we were having a boy, my stomach dropped knowing the world he was being born into…” is the statement from my colleague, a mother raising her 10-year-old “brown boy” in Boston. My colleague feared for her son’s life even before he was born!! Let that sink in for a second.
Is she overreacting? I know some of us might just dismiss her fear as unfounded. But if you are tuned into the news of minority youth in the US, you actually not only validate, but share her fear. For minorities, every time there is a police shooting, the anxiety comes to graze us closely. Every parent of a black and brown child has lived that stomach-dropping fear. Why? Just look at the two incidents of past weeks.
13-year-old Adam Toledo was killed in Chicago even when he was complying with the order given by the police officer and surrendering. 20-year-old youth Daunte Wright was killed in another incident, also while complying with the police order –stopping his car and coming out of his car as ordered– until the escalation changed everything and he was shot dead, reportedly because the police officer could not distinguish between a Glock and a Taser.
So why is Boston CASA talking about this? Because the majority of youth we serve are minorities. Out of 294 kids we served in the last fiscal year, only 18 kids were Caucasian. That means 94% of our kids are minorities and almost half of our kids identify themselves as Black. I think most of these kids at some point will interact with the police system, if they have not already, and experience that fear first-hand, and get traumatized.
Every time young black/brown bodies are shot dead by police we put our black and brown kids in more classes. As an organization serving 94 percent minority kids, we probably need to focus on these classes even more, right? After all, “best interest of a child” is about understanding how to interact with police without getting shot right? But that’s what we have been doing for so long!
We prepare them for “that interaction” beginning in elementary school. We tell them what to do and what not to do, again and again, and prepare them for “that” day. Why? Are we sending our kids to a war zone? Are police officers enemy soldiers looking to haunt our kids? If not, why do we have to teach our kids an entire module on police interaction? Have we accepted the narrative that black and brown kids are dangerous? If not, why are we putting the onus on our kids for the crime committed by police?
The police need education because they are the one who are on duty, paid to keep the community safe. The police should be equally mindful of black and brown youth’s safety. The police force needs to recognize the fears and the deficit of trust it has created in black and brown youth.
Let’s think about the recent shooting of Daunte Wright. As you have all read, Kim Potter was a veteran police officer, 26 years in a job as a cop. I don’t know why a young man who is legitimately scared already because of the police killings throughout the country, (almost a thousand last year according to Washington Post data system that tracks police shootings), needs to be out of a vehicle when police can talk and figure out most of the things when he is right in the car. If his hands are visible enough to assess police security, if that is what cops are concerned about, they should also consider his concern of safety. And the whole idea that 1 black youth driving with an overdue sticker, who by the way, has stopped his vehicle and is talking to the police, is somehow dangerous and is going to overpower 4 to 5 police officers, armed to their teeth, is laughable. So, is it fair to conclude that there is no imminent danger to the cops? Unless the danger was instilled in our polices’ heads by the existing biases that the trainings seem to have failed to address. Policing is assessing a scenario to de-escalate and that should still be the primary objective of policing. Our police force seems to have lost that.
It does not have to be this way. There are countries in Europe–Britain, France, Spain, Norway, and many others—whose police are trained to de-escalate. I have lived in a country for 2 decades, where police cannot shoot a person above the knees. There is nothing like “shoot to kill” that is prevalent in the U.S.A. because police generally are trained to value lives. Because police in these countries understand that they are there to protect the community. Because policing in these countries is an art of using your speech to convince people in crisis not to further escalate and harm them. Police in these countries probably view their role differently. The more I see these police incidents, the more I see the common thread of police forces seeing certain people as perpetrators, and institutions seeing certain people as problems.
So next time you talk about trainings, please direct those trainings towards police officers, not black and brown youth. They don’t need any more trainings than their white counterparts take.