A few hours before I learned of the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo., police, I dropped my 15-year-old son off at the airport to visit his paternal family in Houston for the rest of the summer. I made sure to tell my son to call me once he got to his layover, which would have him sitting in an airport by himself for three hours. As this was his second time flying solo, I was still in mother-hen mode:
Turn your phone off on the flight so the battery won’t die.
Turn your phone on, immediately after you get off the plane, so I can call you.
Get your lunch and find an outlet to charge your phone while you wait for your flight.
Don’t talk to anyone.
If something happens, find a cop.
Those were his directions that I gave him. But when I mentioned the “find a cop” if anything happens, it brought me back to a conversation I had with him when he was 9 years old.
“Mommy, how can you tell the difference between a good cop and bad cop?” was what he asked.
As I was reading the news about Brown’s killing, I patiently waited for my son to reach his layover. I checked the time, and waited 10 minutes after his flight was scheduled to land.
I called his phone. It went straight to voice mail.
I waited another 20 minutes. I called his phone again. Again, I got voice mail.
I’m calling and scrolling through my time line on Twitter and reading the reactions and news about Brown’s death. And then I came across this hashtag: #thingsitellmyblackson.
When my son was 9, I had to tell him about police brutality. But he wanted to know if all cops were bad. He wanted to know how to tell the difference. When he asked the question, I wondered if a white mother had had her child ask that question and how she answered it.
Eventually, after 40 minutes, my son’s phone finally started ringing. He picked up, and it took every ounce of energy not to yell and ask what took him so long. He knew from the sound of my voice I was worried, and he asked why. I reminded him of the rules I had given him and that he hadn’t followed them. I also told him about Brown’s death and that I panicked because I thought something happened.
That’s when my 15-year-old recalled our conversation about good cops and bad cops. Now as a teenager, he understands that those who are hired to protect and serve occasionally cross the line, and more often than not, it’s at the expense of black men and women.
“You always said to respect authority, but what good is it when authority doesn’t respect you?” my son asked.
And this is what black men and women have to deal with, every damn day.
Don’t get me wrong, not all men and women who work in law enforcement are bad. But all it takes is one rotten apple to ruin the bunch. And right now, all we can do as black people, and as parents, is to hope that our children don’t run into one of those rotten apples.
As far as myself, and #thingsitellmyblackson, every time he leaves the house, whether it’s walking to school, hanging out with friends or traveling, I make sure to tell him that I love him because in this day and age, our black boys and girls need to know that although the world may seem to be against them, there are people who aren’t.
Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.