Now that summer is officially over, I feel I can stomach writing about this.
When my now 20 & 17 year old were growing up, they were never allowed to play "Cops & Robbers". There were NO water guns, pellet guns, hand-held bb guns, spray-guns, they were not even allowed to hold their fingers and go "BANG". Seriously, I was THAT adamant.
Now they are grown. All these years I have never even seen them violent or wanting to participate in such activities. They have always been happy to play "Ninja", "Power Ranger" "WWC", or "Hide-and-seek". SO, while I was attending BLOGHER this past July downtown Chicago, I felt uneasy when they brought home these pellet/water blasters with their friends... but thought, 'well, they've gone their entire lives without ... a little fun before I head downtown will be okay... I'm here to supervise, and will simply make them quit when I leave'.
Yup, I am "that" mom with 15 boys at any given time roaming through my house. They all call me "Mama" and listen to me when I talk. The play began about 10 a.m. It started inside, and as it began to warm up, it spilled outside, around the yard, the side of the house, and up and down the street.
"Be careful boys", I gently reminded. It also happened to be the day of the Trayvon Martin Vigil in downtown Chicago, so I had to say it.
"Boys, the city is on edge today, keep it down, you are black football players, I love you - but some people see you as a threat. Just keep that in mind"
They assured me they would, "We're just playing Ma!", they squealed and ran and laughed.
Hour 4. Grabbing my dresses, suitcase and keys...
"Yes, this has gone on long enough. Gotta find my wallet, my cell, ah yes .... hmmmm, the laughter has stopped" ....
The very core of my stomach ached, sweat broke out on my brow and I dropped everything to run outside.
My 6 "boys" were lined up across the street in "the position". Each one legs spread, arms length apart, staring straight ahead. A CPD cruiser was parked the wrong way with lights blazing. An officer was in a 'safety position' on the radio calling for back-up.
Yes, they were Black males, ranging from 6'4 to 5'8 and all over 150 lbs, but all I saw were my babies' "Deer headlights" looking at me.
"Officer, these are my children, what is going on here, what is the problem?? Why are you here? What did they do?"
"Stand back ma'am"
"These are teen-aged boys sir, please, I am an officer of the court, please talk to me, the weapons are toys."
"I can see that now ma'am but we are responding to a call of 'shots fired', I have to get back-up here."
"Back-up? for toys? WHAT shots? These don't shoot?! Please don't do this, who called? 3 of these young men are already committed to colleges. PLEASE listen."
"I'm supposed to take them down ma'am"
I begged, I pleaded, I spoke each one's name, GPA, college commitment, hobbies, even their middle names to give them meaning, faces, to personalize ...
I did not blame the officer, but the creeps who called on kids with obvious toys. Were the callers feeling threatened? The officer was just doing his job.
I wanted to fall on my knees and wail. I wanted to cry, but I kept talking mono-toned, to let the officer know, these boys were mine and NO way was I giving in.
As the other officers arrived, I kept talking. Calm. Deliberate. I spoke of my job, and how I know what is going on and how I've taught all of these boys well. I talked, and I talked ... and talked until they packed up and left.
I am just learning to breathe again because with that one call, so many futures could have been ruined. And as always, when police are called ... that potential that one of them could have been seriously hurt or killed for mouthing off ... and for what? AN afternoon of playing outside?
My boys have gotten their brush with being black men. This is the unfortunate, sad beginning. They will always be feared, seen as threats and marked, no matter what they accomplish or who they become.
It hurt me to actually witness their right of passage into Black man-hood ... To actually be present as they realize WHY I worry and wonder every second ... To watch and reconcile ... understanding as it unfolded with certainty every time I said, "It's not you, it's the world" and taste it as it came to fruition on such a beautiful, hot, summer day. This was never how I planned it.
Innocence is now gone, and I watched it seep and slither out.