Saturday, March 24, 2012

Adventures in Real Parenting: Safe at Home

I've been having nightmares about Trayvon Martin's killing. In the dreams, he's that fresh-faced young man in the Hollister tshirt we've seen splashed all over the media. Then he morphs into Nathan. I stand helpless, unable to move while he's pursued.
On his Monday show, Rev. Al Sharpton played the 911 tapes of the neighbors in that gated community calling to report the disturbance while Trayvon struggled with his murderer. I was not prepared to hear the screaming for help and the gunshot. I was on my way to the post office to drop off a small care package for Chloe. I imagined the horror of Trayvon's parents listening to those tapes.
My cheeks were wet as I carried the box to the door. On the other side of the glass was an African American woman on her way out. Our eyes met. She pulled the door open and stepped aside to let me pass. I thanked her.
I wanted to ask her. Did she have children. Did she have sons? Did she teach them to beware? Did they inherently know they were suspect because of their skin? I asked nothing. She kind of shrugged and turned away.
As I left, she was leaning against her car digging through her purse. I can't find my cell phone, she said. I was so upset about that young man in Florida who was shot, they were talking about it on the news. When I got out of my car, I don't know what I did with my phone.
I was just listening to a story about it, too, I said. The woman looked up from her purse. That poor child. His poor mama. I nodded and opened the car door, slipped back inside.
Thursday evening, Nate's girlfriend and I huddled together under an umbrella. A light rain fell on the batter as he took a swing. His dark skin glistened under the lights. She told me how her teacher asked if anyone knew about the Trayvon Martin case. She raised her hand and was called on to explain it to the class.
I felt so smart, she said. I knew about it.
Isn't that a great feeling? I asked and congratulated myself for doing something right. Which makes me look like a total tool. I know.
She often spends the weekends at our house, using Chloe's empty room, because she lives so far away. On Sunday mornings while I watch Up with Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris Perry, she comes into the living room and hangs out. I thought maybe she was bored by it, but last weekend, when Nate wanted to watch something else, she refused. I like watching this, she said.
She told me how the kids in her class, most of them African American, were outraged at what had happened in Sanford, Florida. Outraged, but not surprised. They're used to the attitudes that separate them from their white classmates. The Rite-Aid across from the school will only let three students into the store at a time. Not that it matters if you're black or white in that case - three students. That's it. If the school were mostly white and upper middle class, would such a rule exist?
The team was stomped. Hard. Slaughter Rule evoked hard. This was a big disappointment because they can play better. We've seen them play so much better.
After the game, they walked by looking all hang-dog. I wanted to stop each one of them and quiz them. Did they know Georgia has one of those Stand Your Ground laws? Did they realize those laws are meant to make "some" people feel safe, but it made them with their not exactly white skin vulnerable to frightened people. Frightened people who believe the law says they can shoot first and justify their fear later.
Do they know how to stay safe? Did they know that they were in more danger in a white, gated community than Nate is when he goes to their homes? Because let's not kid ourselves, if Nate gets shot by a black man  claiming self-defense, the black man is going to spend some time in a holding cell.
MathMan and I drove home and Nate and his friends went out for a bite to eat. I couldn't shake a bad feeling, a sense of something about to go wrong. Antsy and snappish. I was going to spread my misery around to anyone unfortunate enough to have contact with me. I went to my room to worry.
Nate called MathMan. He'd been rear-ended on I75. What should he do? Pull over, call 911and wait inside the car.
Nate did what MathMan said to do, pulling onto the grassy median. The other driver pulled in behind him. MathMan ended the call and went back to lesson planning. I went downstairs to keep busy. A bit later, I asked MathMan if he'd heard from Nate again. He called Nate back. He was on the speaker phone so I could hear what was happening.
While Nate explained to MathMan where exactly he was, the police arrived.
You're gonna get me killed! One of the officers was shouting. You on the phone? Get off the phone!
Yes, sir, I was talking to my father, Nate said. Then he was gone.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath. Made a wish. Let Nate would remain respectful. A nervous kid who'd just been in a car accident being shouted out by a uniformed person with a gun and all the power. He was on his own. What happened next depended on his ability to stay calm and respectful even if the other person was neither.
I asked how much more precarious the situation would be if Nate were a kid with brown skin.
Later he told us how the officer berated him. Do you even have a license? The cop yelled. Why had he been so stupid to pull into the median? Didn't he know he was supposed to pull over to the right shoulder? Whose car was he driving? Why was he out so late?
Why be like that? Since when does serving and protecting include shouting? I mean, Nate already has a mother for that.
He got home in one piece. I could breathe again. After he went to bed, I stopped in his room to say goodnight. To tell him how much I love him, to make sure he was okay behind that mask of cool, calm, collected.
I had a million questions, but only one thought which gave me little comfort, despite the fact that my sixteen-year-old son was safe at home.
Things could have turned out so differently.


  1. glad he was ok....ugh on the officer and how he treated him....the martin case is harrowing...but it can happen to any one...and obviously anywhere...what a sad jacked up world we live times.

  2. This is such a heart wrenching piece, Lisa. I know we cannot claim to know the pain of TM's parents or the pain of discrimination for having dark skin day in and day out, but we do share the fear parents everywhere share that something terrible will happen to their children, who deserve to be protected. This made me cry. It all makes me cry.

  3. wrong account. oh well.

    love you.

  4. It's good that cops yell at kids (and the rest of us) if we've put their lives in peril by pulling onto the median of a highway. I guarantee you your son won't make that mistake again. And let's face it, how many kids listen to their mothers?

    I had a cop yell at me in Santa Monica and he used the exact same line, "Do you even HAVE a license?" It must be standard operating procedure. In any event, that ticket cost me $350 and I can assure you I will NEVER make the mistake of pulling out in traffic just as the other side's light turns green!

  5. You've said some of the very things I've been thinking.

    When did we become a nation afraid of everything? That's how I see it -- we're afraid, all convinced that there should be ways that we can all, always be in control of any situation...

    Guns are too easy to get. There. I said it. But the person following poor Trayvon should never have had access to unauthorized patrolling of his neighborhood while carrying a gun.


  6. Glad Nate made it safely, though I do wonder what the matter was with that cop.

    The Rite-Aid across from the school will only let three students into the store at a time. Not that it matters if you're black or white in that case - three students. That's it. If the school were mostly white and upper middle class, would such a rule exist?

    Maybe. A few years ago, I lived in a predominantly white suburb west of Phoenix. The CVS a block from a high school there practically prohibited students when school let out. The town wasn't nearly as rich as, say, Scottsdale, but just before the housing bubble popped, it was a little higher than middle-class.

  7. This isn't an accident, Lisa.

    It's the inevitable result of the paranoia and racism that's been promoted for almost 50 years by wealthy, powerful people.

    So they can get even more money and even more power.

  8. I'm so glad your son is okay.

    I'm horrified and shaken that Mrs. Martin's son is not.

  9. I really find it scary that Mayor Daley the Elder's brief statement on the function of police is 99% fact now. I'm sorry that attitude has spread to women officers. I'm glad your son is safe.

  10. We never stop worrying about our children no matter their age. I feel so much sorrow for all the mothers of children who aren't white. This remains an issue I have a hard time writing about.

  11. Here is a copy/paste from my blog post today: The TSA is busy "touching people's junk", and wasting time & money doing things like patting down babies in diapers, kids in wheelchairs & Grandmother's who can barely walk, wearing Depends. Common sense is long gone in these hyper scrutiny security programs. A baby in Huggies is worthy of some big to do @ the airport while a vigilante who shot a kid dead in Florida is free to walk away because an adult armed with a gun feels threatened by (not just any kid) , a black kid armed with Skittles candy? Did I mention he was wearing a Hoodie? Because some nutcase pseudo "journalists" say THAT is the root cause of the problem. Because if it were a white, blonde girl wearing a hoodie, she would have been shot dead too? And the all white police department agreed it was justified, self defense. No need to take the shooter's gun, or test him for drugs & alcohol. Homeland security, my ass.
    Kids should not be gunned down on the streets, regardless of the color of their skin, or what kind of shirt they are wearing. In Geraldo's mind, maybe we just need a ban on hoodies? Because racism, and guns in the wrong people's hands are not the problem?

    P.S. My 19 year old son was hit by a car & the cop told me I was not allowed to take photos of the accident scene, (I drove there just after it happened) because the cop had already taken pictures.
    When I asked if the driver who hit him would be screened for drugs & alcohol, I was told in a most condescending way, that this is "not TV Ma'am".
    Really? Because what if that dent in the car hood, and the windshield smashed by his body as he bounced off the hood, onto the windshield, became airborn & landed on his back on the street did any bodily harm to him. Might photos & facts like "was the driver sober" be important information?
    My point: Cops can be wrong.
    I spoke w his supervisor the next day, and later filed a formal complaint against the cop.
    I found myself fearing I must exhibit *best behavior* or I would be the one in trouble.
    We had every right to take photos & request a sobriety test. She did not just hit a lamp post, she hit a human being, my son/family member so yes it was very much so personal. I was requesting these items in a calm, respectful way. In retrospect, I should have said we simply need to call the commanding officer on duty @ the station to clarify these items, or better yet, step away from the scene & make the call. Let's see if your boss agrees with all this,
    Because, yes this was not TV ,and that condescending authoritarian crap was in fact wrong.
    The fact he *thought* she was sober does not make it so, and the fact the person who hit him was not comfortable w us taking photos were both irrelevant.

    P.S.S. Love your new photo wearing the hoodie.

  12. Have to say, between the Homeland scurity bullshit and the cops acting like monsters toward the OWS protesters, I can't stand cops. We have too many of them. Cut the number in have and use the saved money for schools and prosecuting Wall Street so that kids can see what justice looks like and have a real investment made for their futures.
    I want to believe that George Zimmerman will be arrested and tried for murder, but my heart says he won't. When will someone point out the obvious point that might get rid of these fucking "stand your ground" laws: if you are a young black man, you should feel threatened any time a white man follows you. In fact, if you are going to a town that is full of white men, you should be armed. But we know the law won't be applied the same way to a black George Zimmerman.

  13. maybe it will be a good thing that everyone everywhere is talking about this case. It is horrific and heartbreaking and I, as a naive white woman, had no idea that black families have to have the 'talk' with their children. How that has touched me since hearing mind can't rest and I can only imagine what his parents feel. Murder is murder...period.

  14. I've been yelled at by the cops and I'm not a kid. The cop who unloaded on me was young enough to almost be my son and he had no reason to berate me the way he did. It really pissed me off that power hungry jerks gravitate to jobs like police and then whip out their fucked up shit on people just because they can. You are right that your son having white skin saved him from more harassment though. Still, no one deserves to be treated disrespectfully.

  15. If the FL courts don't take care of Zimmerman, I sure hope the family goes after him for everything he and his family have.

    As for cops, I agree that they have gotten so unnecessarily belligerent over the years. Even in a pokey little town like ours they act like their "lives are on the line" every minute. It is ridiculous and part of the fear mongering that has taken over our country.

    Sounds like Nate learned a few lessons that day.

  16. This case is still revolving in my mind and this morning I looked at my son walking to the car and for the first time in a while I saw him how society might see him, a black kid up to mischief. Now that his fro is getting bigger and he is lanky and wears hoodies, I am wondering how it will be for him, so different from his brothers.

    Lovely post and I'm glad Nate was okay.

  17. Law & order ain't just a TV show but shit for flies.

  18. I find this all so sad, there are no words...

    thank God your son is OK.

  19. Yikes, this made me go cold. Thinking about Nate in a situation like that and the possible dangers -- from someone who is supposed to HELP! So scary. The Trayvon Martin case is appalling! I can't even imagine being his parents. Thank god people are rallying around this cause. PS we live in a pretty comfortable, non-racist environment ... and the little stores by the high schools also dictate 3 kids at a time. I have a feeling shoplifting concerns come more from sad experience than racism (although I still hate the inherent message to my kids...)

  20. I can't stop crying about the utter waste and idiocy involved in the Trayvon Martin case. My heart aches for his parents, his friends, his teachers, his extended family...

    I am at a loss that a law was written poorly enough to 'justify' the shooting of this kid as he walked - then ran - down the street. I am at a loss that the killer (not shooter - KILLER) is not in jail, but free to revise, edit and justify shooting a child that was begging for his life.

    I am SO glad that your son is okay. The alternative is too terrible to consider.

    Much love to you and yours.

  21. Oh, Lisa ... quite a post. And close to the bone. Glad Nathan is okay.

  22. Lisa, this post breaks my heart. I am so glad Nate is OKAY. But, you're 100% right, I also wonder what could have happened if the color of his skin was brown. And that makes me soooo sad.

  23. It's a strange world. Thank god Nate is okay.

    Did you happen to catch Bill Maher last Friday? His opening guest was an African-American journalist who mentioned the amount of energy and mental resources a black man has to expend, thinking about his body. Where are my hands, how am I standing? Is it okay to run along the sidewalk? Can I wear a hoodie?

    As one of the more harmless-looking members of the human race, it broke my heart to think about what these men have to learn just to avoid being arrested--or shot.

  24. Ugh. Poor Nate! I'm so glad he's ok but he must have been shaken up.

    I had a similar experience once when a cop pulled me over due to my registration having expired. (I'd actually sent in the renewal on time but it got lost in the mail on return and I lost track of it.) I started to get out of the car and the cop began shouting to get back in my car! It was scary.


And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)