Three teen boys running around with saggy pants and backpacks. One of them is wearing a black hoodie -- hood up, a bandana covering the lower half of his face. That kid has a gun in his hand. He's shooting it. The police are called. You know what happens next…
What happens next is I get a call from my son. He tells me his friend was being an idiot and shooting squirrels. Someone called the cops. Can I come pick him up? He gives me the address. It's not the address of the police station.
I am the first parent to arrive on the scene. There are two police Suburbans parked, their engines running. My son and his two friends are standing nervously. Two guns and a giant canister of ammo sit on the hood of one of the police vehicles. The officers are extremely polite. They tell me that the boy with the hoodie had been shooting his Airsoft gun and both my son and the third boy had not. They said the boys had all been cooperative. My son was free to go. Free. To. Go.
I found out later -- many days later -- that my son also had an Airsoft gun. A gun that was shifting anxiously in my son's backpack, while he was being respectfully questioned by officers. A backpack that was never searched -- a gun that was never discovered.
My son, at age 13, had just gotten a big dose of white privilege. A privilege that may have saved his life.
My son came home that day. He left his bed unmade and his towel on the floor the next day and the day after that, and the day after that. My son continues to have breakfast every Sunday with his grandparents. He still opens up a mouth about having to clean his dishes before going out with friends. He still takes too long doing his hair and regularly makes his brothers late to school. He got strep throat. He turned 14. My son came home.
Tamir Rice was black. He was 12 years old. He was playing with a BB gun in a park. He will never play in that park again. He will never celebrate another birthday. He was shot by an officer before he had a chance to explain his gun was a toy; before he had a chance to hide it in his backpack; before he had a chance to call his mom and say he needed her to pick him up; before he felt his nerves kick in worrying about what his mom was going to say. He'll never come home again.
I can't stop thinking about it. But I can if I want to. I'm not raising a black son. I don't need to teach my son -- my sons -- to keep their hands on the steering wheel when they get pulled over. I don't have to help my sons' white friends understand that the usual mischief boys get into can't be for mine because I fear his life may be taken in a "misunderstanding" because he's black. When the dispatcher comes over the radio saying, "Suspect is a black male…" somehow those words -- BLACK MALE -- strike such a fear, that a routine nuisance call can escalate to a child dying in a park next to his toy gun. The gratitude that my son came home is forever paired with shame. There can be no solace in injustice, even if my son came home.