The special prosecutor in the case Wednesday announced neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmermann of Florida has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Whatever the outcome of the case, it reminds commentator Frances Cudjoe-Waters some things haven't changed.
I still remember the first time it happened. I was dropping off my 17-year old cousin at a friend’s house in the wealthy, white suburb in which I lived. We knocked on the wrong door. Minutes later, I was pulled over by police. Young and scared, I was interrogated about my activities, whether I was delivering drugs. What I was up to.
I remembered. My parents had sat me down months before when I got my license.It doesn’t matter that you are leaving to start Stanford this fall. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been in trouble a day in your life. When many police officers see you, all they will see is a young black girl and that can be dangerous. So, when you are harassed try to stay calm. Try not to be afraid and call us as soon as you can. A black teenager’s rite of passage.
Since then I, a minivan-driving soccer mom of three, have been stopped because I “looked suspicious.” My husband, a partner in a Dallas law firm, has watched white women clutch their purses out of fear of him because he “looked suspicious. A banker friend was stopped in his own neighborhood and forced to spend the night in jail because he “looked suspicious.” And the list goes on. Thank God none of us were shot out of “self-defense” since our brown skin made us look so “suspicious.”
So, yes, I am scared. My three beautiful boys are growing up now and that should be nothing but pure joy. Yet, in our society, that also means new danger. We have to prepare them for what they will encounter because of someone else’s perception of who they are, based on media images that portray black boys and men as predators, pimps and thugs.
My well-meaning white friends have no idea why so many African-Americans distrust or fear the police. They have no idea what it’s like for black parents to have to prepare their children to deal with a public that often still judges them by the color of their skin. They are so committed to the idea that we live in a color-blind society that it is hard for them even to perceive, let alone to help change, the reality that impacts our lives and the lives of our children daily.
So, I can’t make nice. I can’t pretend. The clock is ticking, and my sons will soon be black young men. And my husband and I have to prepare them. You are smart, funny and sometimes silly. Your laughter fills our hearts more than you know. You are capable of being anything you want to be in this life – even President of the United States one day. But when you walk out of the safety, protection and loving arms of our home, you are walking while black, and only our prayers can protect you then.
Frances Cudjoe-Waters is a writer from Dallas.