ShareThis Page
Editorials

Black father prepares to discuss generational truths with son about police

Samson X Horne
| Saturday, July 7, 2018, 12:33 p.m.
Samson X Horne walks with his toddler son into Wal-Mart in Robinson Township.
Samson X Horne walks with his toddler son into Wal-Mart in Robinson Township.

As a black man, how do I tell my son to interact with police?

Just a toddler, he's my firstborn.

I feel like I need to protect him from everything.

As he reaches milestones on his path to independence, I know they will be bittersweet.

I can't protect him every moment of his life.

Eventually, I'll accept that.

Antwon Rose was gunned down from behind by East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld on June 19.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said he found enough cause to charge Rosfeld with third- and possible first-degree murder.

The shooting is something that shouldn't have happened — just like most of the police-involved shootings of unarmed black men and boys.

After all, you couldn't get away with shooting someone in the back even in the Wild West; it was considered cowardly.

I'm angry that this keeps happening.

And I'm scared.

I used to be scared it could be me; now, it's a visceral fear for my son's safety.

There is no secret recipe.

But it has to start at home.

I could tell him the same thing my father told me. Though it's not bad advice, I won't.

He never let us play with toy guns and told us that we shouldn't carry pistols even if we have a permit. My son will not be permitted to play with toy guns, realistic-looking or cartoonish.

My father, who will be 70 this year, grew up near Jackson, Miss., working on a farm with his 13 siblings. Police, to black folks, were like the Gestapo.

He says police shooting unarmed black folks is nothing new.

When I was around 12, he told me a story about how he was about the same age walking to a grocery store with his brothers and the police were riding on the same road.

In those days, he said, you had to make it clear you didn't want to be perceived as being “in the way on THEIR streets” or it would be a painful lesson. Kids would jump into ditches aside the road to avoid being kicked, spit on or worse for not “getting out the way quick enough.” He had suffered that indignity.

One boy, he said, was shot and kicked into a river because he didn't jump off a bridge to avoid the close proximity.

“Don't give them a reason,” my dad still says. Sound advice, along with keeping your hands on the steering wheel, being polite and not making any sudden movements.

I had the utmost faith in my father and never had a reason to think he was misleading me.

But I admit I didn't believe him. After all, I learned in preschool that police helped people, not harmed them. Since, however, it's clear that's not always the case for black folks.

There is an assumption that cops are incapable of misbehavior. They will get the benefit of the doubt before a black man will. To some, brown skin and coarse hair automatically equals a threat that justifies use of deadly force.

Even if there's a chance they've got the wrong guy, some will shoot you.

“To protect and serve” means that you don't take the life of someone entitled by law to their presumption of innocence. You protect them with your own life, not take theirs.

There is no secret recipe.

It starts at home.

The expectation for my son is set: drug- and alcohol-free, don't take anything that doesn't belong to you and keep your hands to yourself.

He can control these things.

What he can't control: matching a description.

More often than not he will fit the description of someone cops are looking for. “Black male in dark hoodie” or “black male in jeans” are the vague descriptions that come across police scanners.

It's inevitable he's going to be approached by police.

Why do I have to coach my son on ways to keep the interaction from escalating to a deadly situation?

Are the police coaching their officers how to interact with my son?

All these unarmed black men getting killed — few white men face the same fate in similar circumstances — leads me to believe they don't.

There is no secret recipe.

It starts at home.

So, what do I tell my boy? We can check off some obvious boxes:

Keep your hands where the officer can see them.

No sudden movements.

Announce your intended actions in a clear audible voice.

Comply.

Yet, compliance can turn out to be propaganda, a false narrative that gives the illusion that compliance will ensure no one gets hurt.

We're scared of them, son. They're scared of us.

In the court of law, their fright holds more weight than ours.

Their right to life supersedes ours.

These officers don't understand that while they've been trained to subdue suspects, you have not been trained to behave with guns trained on you.

They don't understand that the natural instinct of “fight or flight” may kick in if you think you're in danger.

Running is not a death sentence. But it can become one.

You have the right not to get beaten to a pulp by the police.

But you might be.

A jury will take their word as if it were gospel.

The courts don't have your back. The public won't have your back.

You will not be the next hashtag.

Do what you think is necessary to survive.

If you think that means compliance, then comply.

But run for your life if you think you can escape.

Fight with your words.

Fight for your life.

No one else is going to fight for you.

Samson X Horne is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7845, shorne@tribweb.com or via Twitter @spinal_tapp.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me