Like many families this week, we were having a discussion about the two African-American men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile who were gunned down by police officers, the despicable acts captured on video and streaming over social media. And then the subsequent act of vigilantism where a young black man allegedly ambushed and shot ten police officers in Dallas, Texas in retaliation.
Remembering back when I was a little girl and my father owned a business in the community where he often encountered black boys and young black men, many who had no father, I recalled how he would advise them on how to behave whenever encountering the police. I remember him telling them to always ensure their hands could be seen. To keep their fingers wrapped around the steering wheel if they were in a car. To hold them, palms open, high above their heads if they were on the street. I remember his admonishments to always be respectful, “Yes, sir! No, sir.” To comply with whatever was asked of them. To verbally announce any movement they intended to make before making it – “Officer, may I reach for my wallet?” I remember him saying that they would feel threatened and violated but that their end goal was to walk away from the encounter alive and able to tell the story.
I watched my father and my godfather execute these actions many times when they themselves were stopped by police. Two affluent black men with homes in white, middle-class neighborhoods. Two educated black men with their own businesses. Two responsible black men known, active, and visible in the community. I remembered the lessons and I told my own sons, often, what my father had told so many others.
I asked him, after the events this week, where one young black man did everything right and was still gunned down. In cold blood. Executed. Murdered. What do we tell them now when they do comply? When they do what they’re supposed to do and they are still killed? In cold blood. Executed. Murdered. What else are they supposed to do now? And what do we say to young black boys and men who are angry? And frustrated? Who want justice? And to be treated fairly, with respect? Men who feel emasculated and out of control? What do we tell them now?
After a moment of pause, he said, “We are in some seriously dark times. We all need to be praying. And black men now, more than ever, still need to protect themselves and their families, by any means necessary. They need to insure they can walk away, alive, and able to tell the story. So, tell them to pray. To listen with their hearts before acting in haste and rage. To pray for guidance and resolution. Now, more than ever, tell them to pray.”