I wrote this post a while ago now. At the time, there had been a particularly rough stretch of citizen and police brutality against children. Sadly, I’m sure you will remember the references. I’m publishing it today, not because passions continue to flare over injustice – though, I think that’s important too – but because another story about a child being abused and assaulted by law enforcement emerged this week. Perhaps you read about it?
A fourteen year old girl was hit by a car and knocked unconscious while riding her bike in Hagerstown, Maryland. When police arrived on the scene, she did not want her parents to be involved and refused treatment. Officers proceeded to struggle with her to keep her at the scene, going so far as to pepper spray her multiple times through the window of the police car where she was detained. Did she attempt to leave the scene? Yes. Did she resist detainment? Yes. Was there a legitimate reason for her to be detained? Well, I’m not at all clear as to why other than to make sure she was not hurt. Of course, you might understand why, in today’s climate, a black girl (boy, woman, man) would not want to participate in a police investigation, even when she’s the victim! In any case, if the police were honestly concerned about her wellbeing after being hit by a car, why were they manhandling her? Why did they pepper spray her instead of taking her to the hospital? Would they have treated a white girl this way?
Let’s be clear, I am not a cop hater. Far from it. Just as I don’t believe all Muslims are horrible people because a select few become terrorists, I also don’t believe all police officers are bad guys because some terrorize minorities. I’m sure there are those of you who are uncomfortable with that parallel. I won’t apologize. How can we not shine a light on excessive force in law enforcement? How can we not acknowledge the inequalities? How can we not stand up and protest when even one bad apple thinks it’s ok to treat children this way?!
So, today, for the 14-year-old girl in Hagerstown, MD, and the many other children like her, I’m finally rolling this out. I welcome your thoughts.
For a long time, I wholeheartedly bought into the notion that America was a worldwide beacon of liberty and inclusion. Land of the Free. Melting pot. Equality. It’s an awe-inspiring ideal. We’ve fought wars on these grounds, for ourselves and others. And yet, every single day I wake up to new stories about children…let’s let that sink in, CHILDREN…being harassed, demeaned, detained, deported, abused, beaten, arrested, imprisoned…terrorized…because they are different. Because they are not perfect little straight white cisgendered financially-secure Christian children.
Believe me, I am just as angry and fired up about what’s happening to adults too. But can we at least start to see and hear the truth when it’s children? Children doing the things that children do, which yes, often includes mischief. Trying new things, testing boundaries, creatively expressing themselves in ways that may or may not be acceptable in adulthood but are so fundamentally a part of and critical to human development.
We’ve all been there. If there was a rule to be bended or broken, I or someone I knew did it. — Sneaking contraband into class. Cutting school. Shoplifting. Defacing property. Breaking curfew. Raiding the liquor cabinet. Stealing a smoke. — Kids do these things. Of course, for most of us “getting caught” wasn’t a life-threatening proposition. We were held to a reasonable standard, not a different standard. We faced consequences, not the ultimate consequence. Our parents and teachers were trusted to handle lessons about boundaries, limits, and consequences. These were not opportunities for the authorities or anyone else to “teach us a lesson” about how our uniqueness, our differences, made us unwelcome here.
Sure, there absolutely are “the good ones”, those brave souls who risk their lives to fight for our safety and freedom. Those who are smart, savvy, capable, confident, and kind enough to evaluate, without assumption, the reasonable ways to respond to kids being kids.
But every single day, it seems, I read another story about the bad ones. The ones who speak for us all with a raised hand, a fist, a baton, a gun. And for what? For mischief? For playing cops and robbers with the neighborhood kids? For being inventive? For fighting against the odds? For trying to help? For not having blond hair and blue eyes? No. That’s not ok. Do not speak for me on this! That is not my message. That is not my belief. That is not my America.
If this doesn’t enrage us, we are part of the problem. Not standing up for those who don’t have a voice, or for those whose voice is muffled by a false patriotism, are complicit here too. Silence = Death. And I am the first to admit that includes me. I read the stories, I hear the news. What do I do? I get angry. It’s a step, yes, but only the first one. It most certainly cannot be the last. I’m searching, desperate to figure out how to be a better advocate and activist for a solution. Not just awareness, but measurable, palpable, see-it-with-my-own-eyes change. For these kids. Children.
America should be better than this. We are better than this. I am better than this.