September 2, 2013

Summer is Gone.



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"

"PLEASE"

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.

25 comments:

Melisa said...

My God, Dwana. I am speechless. I'm so sorry.

Digital Hope said...

I applaud the person who called the police. They saw what they thought was a dangerous situation. You never know what the person who called the police has gone through. Maybe they lost someone to stupid, random gunfire.

It sounds like the police did exactly what they were supposed to do and the boys walked away unharmed.

I just don't see this as a black thing. I see it as a neighbor taking action and calling the police and the police following protocol (especially on a VERY heated day.)

I've called the police a few times when I've witnessed something suspicious in the neighborhood (so have my neighbors) Once it was on a group of people who seemed like they were trying to scam their way into our building. The police came right away and thanked us for calling and said to call them again if we saw the people in our neighborhood because there had been break-ins.

I can see why you are upset because your kids and their friends were just playing, but we just don't live in a society where running around with guns is ok. No matter what race / color you are.

~Dwana said...

Thanks Melisa, with folks like you on the planet there is hope that we can all one day exhale together <3

~Dwana said...

Digital Hope, they were obvious toys (now in the garbage). No popping sounds, clear and plastic as seen in the picture... and it is a "black" thing. No way would anyone ever call on non-colored kids in cul-de-sac playing, LOUDLY LAUGHING, on a summer day with Gaterade bottles, candy, footballs, kids wearing khakis, and other toys everywhere. Typical scene, and living in the city, you know the difference.

Laila @OnlyLaila said...

Dwana,

My heart just aches. Raising a black male I think about this ALL of the time and it seems that it has become a sick,twisted rite of passage for our boys.

I'm so sorry your sons had to experience this. I'm also slightly pissed that someone would not see the role that race plays, especially in a city like Chicago, in incidents like this. But then again, privilege will do that.

I pray that your boys are okay, as much as can be after an incident like that. I also pray for a time when our kids can go outside and play and not wind up in handcuffs or dead.

Brandie said...

I'm sorry the boys and you had to go through this. It's not right. My heart aches that this is happening. And even more so that some will turn a blind eye as to why it happened.
((hugs))

~Dwana said...

@Laila it especially hurts because I raised them ZERO tolerance with any violence - even playing - but figured this once it would be okay. I understand "perception" exactly why we have to have these conversations with our boys every day. They handed those toys over right then and there and have not been outside to play since. Which is fine by me. I never trusted the world with my children anyway.

@Brandie I love your hugs! <3 thank you for hearing me.

Digital Hope said...

Your inability to see any viewpoint other than your own amazes me. What happened is that someone saw something they considered dangerous and called the police. You think it's because your son and his friends are black, but you don't know that as a fact. Too many innocent people have died in Chicago this year from random gun violence. There's nothing wrong with being too careful.

It's not as if the toy guns were yellow or some other bright color. They were black and I can see how they can be mistaken as guns from far away.

Don't you know your neighbors well enough for them to know it was your son? You seem like the kind of person who would be friends with all of your neighbors.

I think you are being irresponsible as an "officer of the court" to make it seem as if it's wrong to call the police when people see something suspicious.

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara said...

Dwana--Thank you for writing this. There's a great need for people to hear and see stories like this. Good, innocent, playful kids are victims of misconceptions & fears too & now they're reluctant to go out and play with their friends like average teens.

So much violence is caused by fear... gang fear resulting in shoot first or be shot. Mistrust and misunderstandings leading to violence. I'm so relieved your kids weren't shot by overzealous cops either.

Tough lesson to learn, but now they see first hand WHY you've been saying what you did all these years & maybe it will keep them safe and out of future situations where you won't be there to step up for them. Nothing like life experience to make kids actually listen and realize you were right.

Kim Moldofsky said...

This is a horrible story and I'm sorry your boys had to go through it. I'm glad no one was hauled down to the station, but clearly everyone involved was impacted in a lasting way.
Not being familiar with guns, I have to admit I'd be concerned about teens boys of any race (but I do recognize that black teen boys are more likely to be judged) running around with guns like the one pictured above. It doesn't look like a toy to me unless it's "Nerf orange."

My boys (who were eventually allowed Nerf weaponry) have talked to me about running around with their friends in a nearby forest preserve with realistic looking (to me) paint bullet guns and I've forbid this for fear of the kind of situation you've described here.

~Dwana said...

Hope, I am not sure I can appreciate your tone, BUT I will say in the 27 years I've been a "Court Officer" I have never seen non-combative kids in front of their home, once determined to be non-threatening with obvious toy weapons, hauled down to the station. I work in one, so I know. Typically, they ask where you live, ring the doorbell and tell the parent. Writing up innocent kids is a lot of paper-work.

But even more than that, if you've ever seen a shoot-out NO ONE IS LAUGHING.

That said, I do hear you, and it is people who fail to assess situations before reacting that I have warned them about all of their lives - cop or civilian. I appreciate your inability to see the point of this piece, especially the racial component, trust me, you are not alone.

It was definitely not my neighbors ... they came out in support to defend them. Our corner is quiet and very private, we suspect a car that kept circling made the call. And don't misunderstand, I totally expected this to happen in a society like ours.

The point of this piece is the handling, why kids - especially those of color, can't play anymore (as my cousins and I once did), and why people have to view children - especially children of color - as threats. Let's not be naive. Children of color are 99.99% of the time not viewed as someone's child, but as a possible situation to be handled. The innocent children themselves do not understand, no matter how much you tell them... much like Trayvon Martin didn't expect to be viewed as a threat walking home with skittles and a soda. Thanks for commenting.

@Bonnie & @Kim you hit my thoughts and feelings, and point of the piece right on the head. I was also thankful no gang-bangers reacted! Kim the other weaponry was all clear, this was the only almost real looking piece. It was sold in a set of 6 weapons with bright red gel pellets and water capability. Glad they will not be playing like that anymore anyway.

Melanie Angcay said...

Thanks so much for writing this Dwana! I have lived in the suburbs practically all my life, am not black, nor do I have a son, so I cannot begin to imagine the challenges you face. But as a parent, it almost brought me to tears reading about what you have gone through. I hope this makes people realize how much assumptions can impact a person's life. Thank goodness you were there, and I'm so glad the police ended up leaving without taking your boys with them.

Sidney said...

My God....
As a mother of 3 boys I can 100% understand the reasons you raised them the way you did. I have done m best to do the same with mine. We do not practice 'hate' talk or weaponry in the house. Their dad plays those video games, but NOT in front of them.

It absolutely breaks my hear that in 2013 this is still an issue, and due to the loss of Trayvon, it is now an even bigger issue.

I think you know my heart is with you, and the boys. I think of their smiling faces when I saw them last because someone wanted a kiss. This is the unfortunate real world we live in. I am sorry this was their introduction, but so very glad you were home and able to diffuse the situation.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

~Dwana said...

Thank you Melanie, I appreciate you so much!

~Dwana said...

They love kisses Sidney! You helping me spoil them rotten is what what makes the world a better place! The nerve of them thinking the world is their oyster, lol! ... You have done an excellent job with your boys - even that grown baby ... we just have to keep praying <3

Kim Moldofsky said...

Just back to say that until I read your recent comments, I didn't realize that keeping your boys from weapons was in part for their own safety due to the color of their skin. My older boy never cared much about weapon play, but my younger one was all over it when he got the chance (and he didn't have the chance he'd make one up, though I discouraged it). So, though I caved to an eventual "boys will be boys" stance, my thought process was different than yours, and a privileged one as well. My thought process never included thinking of an event like this.

That said, as I mentioned in my previous comment, when my older one talked about running through the forest with his friends and guns that looked all to real to me (but were for paintball) I forbade him, lest it lead to an arrest or other mark on his permanent record. Sidenote, apparently some very real bullets were fired in those woods recently. Yikes.

~Dwana said...

Kim, thanks for the circle-back :D I knew as soon as I had brown boys that they had to be somehow extraordinary and special in some kind of way to survive this world. Everything I have done since then has been to secure that. There is a bout 10 things responsible parents of color teach their male children of color from the beginning and it is for survival.

Beginning with "Don't EVER bring anything into a store, don't ask for anything and DO NOT TOUCH OR LOOK at anything" and it goes from there.

I have such huge amount of respect for white mothers of colored boys - their task is that much worse. I once dated the colored son of a white mother. Her story would break your heart.

I hope these conversations keep us moving forward so that all good children are safe and respected as human beings and those that are not get what they need as well - no pre-nurtured bias.

Just Jen said...

Dwana, thank you for being brave enough to share this story. I can't imagine living in a world where my children are afraid to go outside and play. I'm sorry that this is the reality that your children face every day. (((HUGS)))

Kari at A Grace Full Life said...

I am not an eloquent speaker or writer for that matter, but this post made my heart hurt and my stomach sick.
I am so sorry you had to go through this, Dwana.

Becky said...

Dwana,

I can't believe you experienced this :(. It breaks my heart, and your boys shouldn't have to go through this. I am a white woman living in an all black neighborhood in Detroit and would never call the cops on the neighbor kids for using water guns. They however were not raised the same way, and are cursing and pretending "gang" behavior and are all under the age of 10. If there was an actual threat made I could understand a call, but the irresponsibility of the neighbors as well as the cops is disgusting. Thank you for putting this out there though, people need to know that this still happens.

Maria @ A Savings WOW! said...

My heart goes out to you and your "boys" for all that you've been through. I can't even imagine what emotions and thoughts must have been going through your head seeing them like that. It is sad that an innocent time playing with water guns became a life lesson for them.

Thank you for sharing this with us. One thing we've been trying to teach our kids is to respect others - no matter what color, race, religion, or sexual preference, because everyone has worth and value in this world. It's just such a shame that others don't feel the same way.

CB said...

Stunning. What a life-changing, heartbreaking story. I applaud you for writing this, and big hugs to you and all your boys involved.

Any reasonable person can clearly see the racial implications in what happened. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I will never understand why people can't see the utter humanity and hardened reality in what you are trying to share. Certain comments here are so disappointing and lacking in empathy, and it really speaks volumes about
how and why racially-motivated incidents continue to occur. It's based in fear, and continues to grow among those who can't see anyone but themselves.

D, you can most assuredly hold your head high for having the presence of mind to calmly see the whole horrifying ordeal, clear through to its end. I so admire your ability to see the whole picture - including the boys' futures - during a highly emotional scene. I have mad respect for you, both personally and professionally.

I witnessed a scene this summer where a bunch of teenaged white kids were running around a strip mall parking lot with squirt guns, freaking out a lot of people who told them to knock it off. As you may have guessed, no cops were called. Those kids didn't go through what your boys did. Their same antics did not end with the potential to alter their lives. This disparity is what is so shamefully unfair, as real and as common as it is.

It's no wonder you have a houseful at all times - those boys obviously know a stellar role model when they see one.

Thank you for sharing.

Maureen Fitzgerald said...

I cannot even imagine what that must have been like to go through for you or your sons. I am in awe of your ability to keep a calm head and handle the situation in a way that diffused it.

No one should ever be in the position of having to put their years of hard work and accomplishments on the line just to play outside. *Maybe* a case could be made that someone called the police out of genuine concern, but I have a hard time picturing the police handling it the same way if the kids had been white.

Thank you for sharing what must be a day you'd rather forget.

Lisa Noel said...

This has left me pretty much speechless so forgive me if I can't put together a great thought but I'll try.
I'm pretty much in Kim's boat. I began life as the mom of boys trying to keep guns out of the house. But never ever considering this type of issue. It breaks me heart to even think about having to raise kids with those thoughts in mind. We live in a bad area. We have had to teach our kids very early on how to be on high alert. And we live in an area highly populated by minorities so we try really really hard to teach the boys that it isn't a certain group of people based on color or religion etc. We have friends of every age race etc. And we've been mistreated by every group at some point as well. The type of person someone is will never be determined by a color. Unfortunately too many people have yet to learn this.

I truly hope that this will be your boys only experience ever having to face this issue so head on!

~Dwana said...

@justJen thank you!

@Kari you are such a sweetie :-)

@Becky yes, I feel so badly for those little ones who are left to make their own evaluations about how to behave. We, as communities, have a ton of work to do!

@Maria thank you <3

@CB <3

@Lisa said perfectly <3 thank you for that... love this: "The type of person someone is will never be determined by a color. "