Here we go again, another unarmed black teen shot to death by the police.
I understand that each case is different and opinions vary as to who’s at fault. I won’t get into that debate, because the bottom line is that another young person has lost his life when it could have been avoided.
I have been blessed with one son and two daughters. I can only teach them what I know and things I’ve experienced in life.
One thing I taught my daughters was not to allow men to abuse them physically or verbally. I taught my son how to survive as a black man in the USA.
They all learned that education is the key to achieving the American dream, but also that there would be times when they would have to make life or death decisions in a split second. Oftentimes that decision is made based on what their parents have taught them.
Growing up as a black teen in Grenada during the Civil Rights Movement taught me a lot about police brutality.
More importantly, I learned about the power that law enforcement had in the community. If stopped by the police, I expected that they would hurt me with the least provocation. I was once picked up for walking and having an Afro comb in my back pocket. After driving me around town threatening me for a while, the police put me out of the car on the other side of town. I didn’t mind, because at least I was able to walk home alive.
Coming home alive was the most important lesson I taught my son. The first thing that he had to understand is that he is (and always will be) a black man. That means that there will be those that have certain perceptions about you without even knowing you.
So when confronted by law enforcement, don’t confirm the negative perceptions. Act like you know your rights. You don’t have to get in the officer’s face and yell, “I know my rights.” Just act like you do by complying.
And if you don’t understand the command, seek clarification by asking the officer politely, and remaining cool-headed.
Take a mental note of the officer’s name and badge number, date and time of the incident and officer’s stated reason for stopping you. This will generally change the officer’s perception of you. And when they understand (by your actions) that you know your rights, they will generally let you go.
If arrested or detained, my son was taught to just say “call my dad.” Keep in mind that in some cases, even when you do everything right, some will kill you anyway.
Race has been, and always will be, a factor in this country. We all have perceptions about other races. And the police are no different. After all, they come from the same communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
The lack of communication and failure to seek culture understanding of those different from us will continue to lead to deadly confrontations between police and young men of color. We must understand the world we live in, and teach our children how to survive. Some may see this as being pacifistic or even cowardly. But the bottom line is that I wanted my son to survive his inevitable encounter with law enforcement and to come home alive.
Write to Grenada resident Charles Latham: firstname.lastname@example.org