Asa is 5 years old. I was 4 years old when I had to learn some startling lessons about the police after my brother Frankie, was arrested at 14 years old. The cops were looking for a 30 year old Black man. They took my brother instead. He was 14. He wasn't a thug, he used to tickle me and play games with me, he wasn't doing anything wrong and they just took him. My Dad sat me down after that and had the first, of many, discussions about how to survive encounters with the police. In these discussions he would reiterate these points:
1. You have to do everything you can to avoid getting stopped. Once they see you're Black, they'll think you're a criminal. So make sure you never have any tail lights out, no headlights out, nothing, no license plates lights out, nothing. Always come to a full stop at the stop sign, always signal all your turns.
2. If you do get stopped you need to treat the police like rabid dogs. Wild, unpredictable, and deadly. Never look them in the eye, always say yes, sir and yes, mamm. Always, always, always do what they say. Even if it hurts, even if you don't understand, even if you have questions, just immediately do what they say BUT don't move too fast. Don't reach into your pocket for anything- EVER! (He always stressed this point heavily, especially with my brothers.)
3. Always have your ID on you (I didn't at the time really even know what that meant), BUT DON'T EVER REACH FOR IT. If you reach, they'll say you have a gun. They'll say they were scared and they will not hesitate to kill you. And they'll get away with it. Never forget that they will kill you. You wait until they ask you to get your ID and as you are getting it move slowly. If it's in a purse you or a pocket, you ask them to shine their flashlight in so you can get it out, you move slow. Move as slow as you can. And the whole time say thank you sir for the light. Just move slow. Don't look them in the eye. It provokes them. Remember, just do everything they say so they don't kill you. I will never forget him saying that over and over, just don't do this or that so they don't kill you.
As a child, I remember being terrified of police after that speech my Dad gave. But really it wasn't his speech that was terrifying, it was after seeing what happened to my brother, knowing that my Dad was actually right. In school they told us police were there to help us. But for my family the police posed the biggest threat to our wellbeing in the white suburban neighborhood we lived in. I knew my Dad was right, the cops would kill me without hesitation. They would shoot first and ask questions later. So at 4 years old, we began having conversations about how to survive police encounters. I believe that my Dad's speech has kept me safe and alive. Over the years, and even until this day, it is his voice I hear ringing in my ears when I get ready to leave the house: don't leave without your ID, but don't ever reach for it. Not ever. Move slow.
And as all Black parents know, when I become a parent I know I will tell them all this, all of what my Dad told me to keep me safe and then I will just pray and hope that my children survive their encounters with the police. Because even though I still listen to my Dad's advice about how to survive encounters with the police the reality is, as a Black person - especially for young, Black males - you can do everything right and still be murdered. You can obey the police officers as they command and degrade you, hurt you and humiliate you, you can listen to them and do every single thing right and they will still kill you.
Where there is no justice, there can be no peace.
Graphics created by artist Shirin Barghi to honor our dead Black men and boys.
These were their last words. Find her on Twitter @shebe86