Arlene Huckaby of Toledo says she never had ‘the talk’ her brothers received. ‘I guess [my parents] didn’t think their girls would be stopped’ by police.
Arlene Huckaby’s parents didn’t tell her what to do if she was ever questioned by police officers.
“I never had the talk about how to conduct myself,” said Mrs. Huckaby, an African-American Toledoan. “I guess they didn’t think their girls would be stopped.”
But it was different for her brothers who received “the talk” in Bridgeport, Conn., where she and her siblings grew up. She recalled her parents telling their sons to “lower your tone, keep your hands on the wheel, don’t move, unless you ask permission to go into the glove box.”
The subject of what African-American men should do when stopped or questioned by law enforcement officers is routinely discussed in black homes, and given the history of tension between black men and police, parents focus increasingly on telling their sons how to avoid tragic outcomes.
The issue has received national attention since the death of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was unarmed when he was shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch member.
Consider these familiar cases:
● Amadou Diallo, 22, a West African immigrant, was unarmed in the doorway of his Bronx home when he was shot at 41 times by New York City officers in 1999. He was struck 19 times and fatally wounded. The four officers were acquitted.
● The recent film Fruitvale Station is about Oscar Grant, 22, who was killed by transit police on New Year’s Day, 2009, in Oakland, Calif. He was unarmed and face down on the ground when a white police officer fatally shot him in the back. The officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter but acquitted of murder charges.
● Sean Bell was unarmed when he was fatally shot in 2006 by police the day he was to be married in New York City.
The view that the justice system disregards black life once again overwhelmed African-Americans last month when Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted.
Jason Moss and his wife, Stacie, say children must first be taught to be polite and respectful. ‘It starts within the four walls of the home,’ Mr. Moss said.
Mrs. Huckaby, a Toledo school teacher and pastor of a local church, was single while raising her son, who is now 24.
“If you are stopped, be careful.” she told him. After all, she said, it’s the officers’ “job to serve and protect, but not necessarily you.”
Cyrus Jones II, 32, a charter school substitute teacher in Toledo, helps with his school-age nephews and nieces. He and his wife Teanna have an infant son and a toddler daughter.
“My father was from Selma, Ala., so he had a different perspective on police,” Mr. Jones said.
His father told him, “ ‘OK, Cy. I’m not telling you all police are bad. They are here to serve and protect, but not to serve and protect you all the time. So when you are out there, make sure you obey the policemen, because the first time you question them, they are going to take that as a right to lay hands on you.’ ”
Mrs. Huckaby and the Joneses were among several area residents at a forum assembled recently by The Blade to discuss the topic.
Jason Moss, 41, who also works for Toledo Public Schools, said children must first be taught to be polite and respectful.
“It starts within the four walls of the home,” Mr. Moss said.
He and his wife, Stacie, 43, a vice president of sales and operations for a staffing company, have a son, 4, and a daughter, 2.
Toledo police Sgt. Anita Madison, who was not at The Blade forum, later said families of every race should have the same universal message about coming into contact with all authority figures.
“You present yourself with respect and if there are issues, that should be brought back to the parent to deal with. Children must know how to come into contact with any adult,” she said.
Anthony Bronaugh, Robinson Elementary School principal, says his own experience as a teen helped him know what to tell his son.
As the project manager for the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, she takes issue with categorizing Mr. Zimmerman with police because “that incident didn’t involve law enforcement. It was an adult that decided that he wanted to take action that turned out bad.”
“The vast majority of young people are good young people who have respect for police,” she said.
School resource programs let students see officers in a positive manner unlike when they are called to address problems, the sergeant said. She also said communities must partner with police to identify issues and solutions.
Matter of respect
Leslie Gray, 34, a single mother whose son is on his way to college, said there tends to be “an overwhelming sense of respect for officers’ position even in the event that they don’t respect us.” An intake detention officer at the Juvenile Detention Center, she said not all young people seem to have received that instruction.
“I’ve seen some of the young people challenge the police in the sense that ‘you’re not respecting me, I’m not respecting you,’ ” Ms. Gray said. “I’ve told my son, comply [with police] and we’ll work out the rest on the back end.”
While attending a parochial school, Ms. Gray’s son and schoolmates were together when they were questioned by police.
“I had to let him know there will be times when you’re just standing out and not doing anything wrong and you get stopped,” she said.
Mr. Jones said he has seen white friends openly criticize police and get away with only a warning or citation.
“I’ve watched my black friends do the same thing, and — I am not going to be the one to try it — they get slammed onto the hood of a car.
“In L.A., I’ve seen Chicanos getting shook down,” Mr. Jones said. “I don’t know the specifics behind it. I don’t know if white people have to deal with the same issue. I don’t know if white fathers tell their sons to keep their hands where police can see them, don’t talk crazy, if your voice is deep, try to make it higher.”
Anthony Bronaugh’s mother didn’t give him the talk, but his experience as a teen when he was driving a luxury car for work and was swooped down on by police helped the Robinson Elementary School principal know what to tell his son.
“ ‘Keep your hands where they can see them. And don’t take off your seat belt. Be respectful. Look at them. Don’t turn your head.’ ”
Not worth it
The forum group agreed that there are many good and compassionate officers and that these matters do not always involve white police. Mr. Jones’ first experience with police was with a black officer who became involved in his talk with a friend and then roughed him up.
A month after Trayvon Martin was killed, two black security guards in Atlanta shot and killed Ervin Jefferson, 18, outside his home while he was trying to protect his sister from a threatening crowd.
Some hold that if you do everything right, all will be well. But that’s not always the case.
Cyrus Jones II speaks during a Blade forum on what blacks should do when stopped by police as his wife, Teanna Jones, center, and Leslie Gray listen. He says he doesn’t know if white parents give their sons ‘the talk.’
“One cop might have something to prove or he has a bad day or whatever. We don’t know what’s going on in that man’s personal life and he may just react on you. There are a lot of young men who do right and still get shot,” Mr. Jones said. “I’m 6 feet 2 inches, I have a baritone voice, and I wear dreads. [Police] automatically assume that men looking like me are going to be up to something.”
The Mosses, an interracial couple, want their son to understand what he could face. Mrs. Moss, who is white, will stress that he must watch the tone of his voice. In fact, she said that what she might say to an officer could be perceived differently from what her husband, who is black, might say.
“Even if you [question an officer] in a very proper and respectful way, you still might not get the desired result. I think the potential outcome of the loss of life is not worth challenging [an officer] for. I err on the side of caution, because if the goal is, ‘How do I get them home safely?’ I wouldn’t recommend that he do any challenging,” she said.
“You may not mean anything by what you say, but if [an officer] takes offense to it, it’s going to be hard for us to say, ‘He’s in the wrong,’ because at the end of the day, the power’s in him, not in you. I hate to say it, but you are powerless in this situation,” Mr. Jones said.
Tell the truth
It seems as if parents must compel their children to practically humiliate themselves and be docile to officers to remain safe.
“It’s almost a subservient role. It’s almost like I’m a new butler, or the new help,” Mr. Jones added.
Mrs. Jones added: “I made a comment to a police officer that it’s quite funny that we fear you more than we fear God. We’ll think twice before we do something to police, but we won’t think twice about what we do that’s against the Bible or against somebody’s religion. He laughed at me and said, ‘Agreed.’ ”
Will they tell these stories to their children?
“Yes,” Mr. Jones said. “I feel like I would do a disservice to my boys if I don’t tell the truth.”
Contact Rose Russell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.