I have explained to my kids that your gender doesn't limit your dreams. I have explained to them that love is love. I have explained the stupidity of people believing that the color of your skin assigns your soul a specific value. I have even managed to explain the vague threat of a pandemic. But when I watched the evening news with my daughter and she asked, "Why the police are shooting at them?" Well, I had no good answers for her.
We live in a suburban/rural state, where the police officers could be your neighbor. I've taught my daughter and her brother to go to police officers for help. We've been to plenty of kid-friendly police events where they set up all their shiny cars, beefed-up motorcycles and tactical units that resemble tanks. Those were always a hit, with kids traipsing in and out and me thinking, "Ah, we have tanks. ... Well, that's ... huh. Why do we have those?'
My 7-year-old daughter might believe now I was wrong about police. Maybe I am. Maybe I always have been.
This is even harder to explain to a 4-year-old. My son climbed onto my lap while I sat on our front porch as the sun rose. I was debating how to safely sneak hot coffee into my mouth while realizing that was one of those moments I needed to cherish; it might even be unlikely that he'll climb on my lap in just a year. I let the coffee cool and breathed in his scent as he asked, "Why did the police push that old man, and why did blood came from his head?"
I sighed out a long "Ohhh" as I scrambled for an answer. I went with trying to reassure him. "Those aren't cops," I said. "When they did that, the others knew, and they took them away from being cops." I winced, glad that his face was turned to the hummingbirds by our shade tree. I didn't even believe myself.
I asked him, "How did that make you feel?" He was silent a tick too long, and I asked him again. "Mad," he said quietly.
There's a running debate for him: Is he going to be a police officer or a firefighter? It's all about his mood; is it a day for saving people or a day for fighting the bad guys? For him, the badge holds an allure of power, action, duty; it's something primal that seems to make him feel bigger than himself, a guidepost of masculinity. It's a symbol of protection; it's a symbol of defense.
I am uncomfortable disrupting his dream. I'm uncomfortable disrupting my own truth of what I'd like police to be. It's discomfort for me, but black mothers have fear. They feel fear when they tell their sons about the police. They want their little boys, who may already be shades of men with wisps of hairs on their upper lips, to just come home to them, to come home to their lap so they, too, can sniff the scent off the tops of their heads.
Back to watching the news. I asked my daughter to remember what I told her of people thinking she's different because of the slight Hispanic tan in her skin.
"Black people in our country have had people hate them for hundreds of years, and it's a huge problem we have as a country that we haven't solved yet," I said. "They are mad, and so are many others. But the people who hate have a lot of power."
"I wish we could go back in time," my daughter told me. "2019 was so much better than 2020."
I hear you, kid.
But we can't stay in the past. It's time to move into the future. We may have to rethink how we believe justice, protection and defense happen in our country. The troublesome issue is disrupting our myths and naming the truth: Some of us believe the police keep us safe, but they don't keep all of us safe equally.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.