After several days of being inundated with stories about the situation in Ferguson, my one abiding thought has been that I’m so glad I have a daughter and not a son. Although I grew up in a “middle-class” household in a relatively safe area of the Southside of Chicago (middle class is often defined differently in Black households; we were probably lower middle class at best), I have always understood that this world is not safe for little (or big) Black boys. They face different pressures and greater dangers both within and outside of our communities.
As a teenager, I made some questionable choices (as many of us do), but I never really felt like I was at risk—from the gangs or the cops. But as my younger brothers grew up and navigated the space between childhood and adulthood, I worried about them. I worried that they would pick the wrong friends, or choose the wrong times to be mischievous, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time or meet the wrong law enforcement officers.
For black boys, a blunt could mean a jail sentence and the permanent closing of any doors that may have been cracked, because even with a squeaky clean history, many are already closed to them. But until recently, I was most afraid that my brothers would either be victimized by violence in our neighborhoods—violence that persists in any area where people live on the margins of society—or jailed because of the propensity of police and judiciaries to prosecute more black boys and sentence them harsher that boys of almost any other ethnicity. I never considered that the police—men and women who take an oath to “serve and protect”—could be the ones to end their lives.
Civil Unrest as a Path to Change
I lived through the Rodney King beating. I watched as those four cops went free, and two were later jailed for their actions. I watched as the city of Los Angeles burned, several people were killed and thousands were injured in the 1992 riots. As horrific as that time was, it brought about change. After the riots, the Los Angeles Police Department increased minority representation in the ranks, the police chief resigned and the city’s mayor lost support.
In contrast, after Trayvon Martin died, and his murderer was acquitted, many mourned, but few took to the streets, except for peaceful walks and demonstrations. While “stand your ground” gun laws came under fire, little has changed since the day Trayvon died. And instead of George Zimmerman facing federal charges in the aftermath, he walks free today to flaunt his “second-amendment rights.” Many believe it’s only a matter of time before he kills again.
I am not an advocate of violence. Aside from the fear that would prevent me from participating in a demonstration that turned violent, I have too much to lose. I have a job, a house and a daughter to protect. But many of the people, young and old, who participated in the LA riots in 92 and those who are participating in the Ferguson riots of today have nothing to lose and, if history repeats itself, everything to gain.