Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!
That statement reverberates in my heart daily. After seeing several videos of unprovoked and escalated police response towards private citizens, my heart just sinks further and further into a place of fear. Fear for my own son.
My 9 year old son Sam is multi-racial. While he carries african blood and african genes, he also has the benefits of other “white privilege” kids. He has straight, brown hair, tan, good looking; definitely appears “white”.
But he has autism.
He is also very verbal. To the point of “passing” as normal. How I hate that word, normal. But alas, it is the measuring stick with which all other life experiences must be defined by.
Sam has a communication disability. Because he speaks so well, and has an astronomical vocabulary, strangers think that they are having a conversation with a very bright, normal kid.
This includes authority figures.
A few weeks ago, there were a string of incidences at Samuels school. He was interviewed by the administration about his part in them. I received a phone call that put me into a panic. It sounded like Sam was at the very least, about to be suspended. I called the office, and asked for an emergency meeting with the administration to have a conversation face to face, and hopefully come to a resolution.
When I walked into the meeting the next day, it was clear that the people in that room thought they had the whole story. And as we talked, it dawned on me that the only way to resolve this, was for them to observe Sam’s disability in first person.
Sam was called into the room.
I sat across from him, and we started talking. It took no more than 2 minutes for them to realize that Sam truly had a disability. He can’t be questioned like a typical child, because he doesn’t understand meta-messages, unspoken questions, leading. He is more concerned with the color of a students shirt, then he is their names. He was unable to give names, because he can’t remember faces. He struggles with understanding someone’s intentions, because he can’t read facial expressions.
Over the next few minutes I watched as every person in that room gained revelation about my son’s unseen disability. All of a sudden, we were on the same team. We were working together. Concern turned to excitement, as the staff became empowered in the recognition of their own part to play in helping Sam grow and develop and reach his potential. And I am so happy to say, that he has an amazing team that is really working hard to push him to new heights in his education.
And yet, it also scared me to death. What if they had called the police because Sam was having a meltdown? What if the police questioned him without me, and he admitted to things he didn’t do, just as he had at school? What if, when he is 18 years old, he gets pulled over by the police and he starts acting “weird” and justifies an officer to tase him, or worse, unload a clip into his stomach?
Here are just a few horrifying stories: http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/5-times-police-killed-people-mental-disabilities
My son’s “white privilege” of being able to walk through a store, and it not be assumed that he is stealing, will still be intact no matter what. But he has no “normal” privilege to protect him if his path crosses a police officer who is on edge and having a bad day.
This is one reason why Ferguson matters. It’s not that the police don’t have the right to protect themselves…THEY DO. I love police officers and I know so many that are awesome and do this job because they care. But when those who are responsible to provide safety to ALL of it’s citizens, acts in such a way as to make some citizens fearful of walking down the street, or going to the store, I believe it is our duty to uncover our privileged ears and ask the HOW and WHY questions.
And of course, where do we go from here?
Maybe I am naïve, but I look at what happened in my sons school. We sat down, we talked. Those who had the power saw that they could also be part of the solution. And I think that it changed something. Kind of like this guy right here: http://bit.ly/1CZrsjS
We have to change the narrative, so that all of our babies, officers and citizens, can come to a table of peace and resolution. That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye, it means getting into the game of reconciliation and justice.