Kenneth L. Hardin: Black parents still need to give police survival talk

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 2, 2022

Last week, I read about a Tennessee school resource officer dragging a teenage Black kid by his hair down a set of high school bleachers. He’d refused the PE teacher’s directive to play kickball in gym class. The student told the teacher he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to participate.

The interaction escalated into a shouting match with the end result being the police officer assaulting, pepper spraying and ultimately placing him in handcuffs. Was that level of force necessary? Sadly, when it comes to Black men of color, that appears to be the typical response to de-escalate an altercation. Even sadder, it results in so many men of color’s lives being extinguished permanently and unnecessarily.

Officers, who have military style weapons and tactical gear versus none, will say he was scared for his life and faces no accountability  or justice. The victim is shamed and blamed for not adhering to the police officers’ orders as if doing so would magically absolve him from facing a deadly outcome.

How can anyone be shocked at this or any of the other centuries long list of people of color being  gunned down and brutalized without repercussions by those entrusted to protect and serve. Those victimized are not given the respect or consideration that their fears are valid and their concerns are randomly dismissed. I recall having a  conversation with a local police leader and hearing in an exasperated and insensitive tone, “I’m sick and tired of hearing all this Black people don’t trust the  police nonsense.”  That’s why I give a side eye to all these police-community conversations and don’t feel compelled to attend the PR sideshows this city puts on.

I spent six years in military law enforcement followed by seven years working for the N.C. Department of Corrections after my honorable discharge. I respect and support law enforcement officers. I have many friends who serve behind the badge. I encourage young people to show police officers respect, but I will criticize officers when they fall short. In contrast, I have no trust or faith in our so-called system of justice.

It seems like we only have a collection of laws that are applied inconsistently and unevenly based on ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The Black community does not hate the police. They mistrust a system they feel continually fails them as they have too many examples of deadly outcomes without due process.

When prosecutors take away the opportunity for justice and a jury of our peers (wink, wink-nod) allow corrupt officers to walk free, why should people of color continue to have faith while their voices are muted, their value diminished and true blind justice never realized? When I read about cases where miscarriages of justice involving police officers are so routine, I feel it necessary, and almost a requirement, that Black parents have a survival talk with their kids. To those who don’t have the weight of this bearing down on them, instead of criticizing and condemning me and other Black parents, try to understand why we feel this way.

My three sons are grown and live out of town, but every time this happens I get a knot in my stomach and pick up the phone to call them. I’m not sure if they understand why I call, but it’s just to ensure they’re safe and ok. God bless the parents of young sons who see this as an overreaction or don’t understand why Black parents have to have “The Police Survival Talk.”

I wish I had that emotional freedom and luxury of being able to exhale when a news story like this airs. I wonder whether white parents are having this cautionary conversation or if they ever have to provide their children with a set of rules to ensure existence to adulthood?

The roll is too long to acknowledge everyone, but from Emmett Till to George Stinney to Sandra Bland, up to this current young man today, and for all the countless and faceless young men and women of color in history whose Black Lives haven’t Mattered for centuries;  when are Black parents going to be allowed to exhale? When will skinfolk be allowed to recognize the dream promised to everyone else? That tall lady standing high and holding that torch in New York said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Yeah lady, whatever.

Is it irrational for me and other Black parents to have that talk with our kids? Not to me. I see it as teaching them necessary survival skills. Sadly, I know it won’t be the only time I will have that uncomfortable conversation with them.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member  of the National Association of Black Journalists.

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