Sometime during pregnancy, I began to see issues facing families and children through different eyes. I began to see and feel them using my newfound “mommy-sense”.
When I first heard of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a man-CHILD, my heart ached. His family had allowed their son to go to the store and he never returned.
My first thoughts were what his last moments must have been like. My mommy-sense took me through the events time and time again. I try to block it out, but I keep going back to it:
Walking home in the twilight, almost dark. You are approached by a STRANGER. What do you do?
I was taught and had planned to teach my son to:
2. If necessary, run away from a stranger
3. If absolutely necessary, fight (because you don’t know if that stranger is trying to kidnap or hurt you)
My heart hurt because what I was taught and what Trayvon may have been taught resulted in his shooting death and the MAN who shot him has been acquitted of his murder. Regardless of your belief in the legal validity of the verdict, a child was approached by a stranger (not someone who identified himself as a police officer) and that stranger ended up fatally shooting him.
I talked to a Public Defender family member today and I am trying to understand the specifics of the law, but my mommy-sense keeps taking me back. Back to what I should and will teach my brown son who will someday become a tall brown man like my husband. My husband has shared countless stories over the years about how women clutch their purse when he walks by even as he is holding our infant son, how he has been profiled by the police, how he began feeling hostility from female strangers even as a child. I shudder that someday we will have to help our son navigate these prejudices.
Also, what, as a Primary Pediatrician should I teach the young male children of color that I work with every day that is within the harm-reduction paradigm I soo often defer to? We have fought in my state to have the right to discuss gun-safety (do you have a gun in your home? Do you keep it locked?) with parents and we often teach about car safety, but what are we teaching the brown boys for whom homicide is a leading cause of adolescent death?
Do I teach these young men and my son, as my father and my husband were taught, that many people will see them as threats regardless of where they are going and what they are doing? How do I instruct him and my patients to be strong and proud, to not bend to stereotypes, when at any moment they may be seen as a threat, challenged, harassed, assaulted, and possibly killed? What do I tell them to do when approached by a stranger, not a police officer, on the street? What do I tell them when our justice system still hasn’t figured out what to do with these prejudices?
I now fear strangers more than ever. I fear them for myself and I mostly fear them for my son, my nephews, and my patients. I am now more afraid of the dark than ever before. I shudder for the day when I have to allow my little man-CHILD to venture unaccompanied at night. I fear the prejudices others may have of those who look like him. I fear the advice I may give to him about strangers: don’t talk, run, and fight if you must. I am fearful that this evasive tactic may itself be seen as a threat. I am fearful that adults can kill children and it be brought into the light and nothing happen.
What will you tell your children? What will you tell your patients? What will you tell parents after such tragedies? Are you as afraid as I am?