When the police threw a grenade into the home of Aiyana Jones, there were toys scattered in front of her residence. A SWAT team busted down the door, a officer discharged a single bullet that struck Aiyana in the head and exited through her neck, killing her, at the tender age of seven.
When I think of little Aiyana sleeping peacefully near her grandmother, the last night she was alive, I think of my own daughters and the milestones to come. I imagine joyfully shouting “Smile” as I snap pictures of them in prom attire. I imagine screaming until my voice cracks, celebrating their graduations. I visualize myself crying tears as I hold my first grandchild. What I don’t envision is waking up to blood spilling from their tiny bodies after being shot in the middle of the night, by law enforcement, those sworn to protect and serve them.
Although perhaps I should, because according to the Fatal Interactions with Police Project, a study released in 2018, Black women are more likely to be killed by police when UNARMED than other groups, including white and Black men.
But my girls are so young. The little one loves puzzles and Hot Wheels; for her last birthday she begged for Pokémon cards to trade with her classmates at school.
My oldest daughter, a fourth grader, loves art, history and writing. Last Halloween, she dressed as Queen Nefertiti with a bust made of plastic Mardi Gras beads; the year before, Frida Kahlo, her headband made of tissue paper flowers.
Why would my little girls ever cross paths with the police?
Then I remember Kaia Rolle who was handcuffed and arrested at six years old by a Florida Police officer, for having a tantrum. My daughters have tantrums.
Next I remember Dajerria Becton, who at 16 was violently tackled by a police officer at a Texas pool party. My girls enjoy swimming too. Yet, maybe these instances are flukes, statistical anomalies that will never occur again. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking.
A study out of Georgetown found adults view Black girls as young as five years old as needing less nurturing and protection than their white peers. Another study found that Black girls, in every state, are twice as likely to be suspended even when their behaviors and infractions are identical to those of their classmates.
The collective dehumanization of Black girls means they are seen less worthy of protection and nurturing, and more deserving of punishment. This increases the likelihood of having interactions with law enforcement, and those interactions are much more likely to be deadly. An additional devastating reality: The odds of a police officer being held accountable for murder is slim, in fact its nearly nonexistent.
I, like most mothers, want to be a “good” mom. I had a rocky relationship with my own mother and strive not to repeat toxic behaviors. Thus, I enrolled in parenting classes and read books about child development. The “Four S’s” that child psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel uses as a model to achieve secure attachment or “good” parent status are described as follows:
Seen – children need to be seen with empathy, they need parents to see the emotions and reasons behind their behavior.
Soothed- children need caregivers to help them manage and process big feelings.
Secure- children need to have a sense of self worth.
Safe – children need protection from actions that frighten or harm them, both emotionally and physically.
The last S, I thought easily achievable, yet it eludes me. I took directions from pediatricians and teachers. I held their hands when they crossed the street and told them to stop, look and listen. I braided their voluminous hair into cornrows, flat against their scalps, so their helmets would fit snugly as they biked. Now amid the pandemic, lessons on internet safety, as playdates no longer consist of afternoons at our local park but rather Zoom meetings and Google chats.
Yet as a mother there is absolutely nothing more heartbreaking than realizing I have limited power to protect my daughters from racism and sexism. Being born Black and identifying as women makes them susceptible to all types of violence. They are more likely to be killed by their domestic partners than women in other demographics. This is a huge issue and far too many Black women and girls are being brutalized and killed by the people they love.
Thankfully, by 1920 we decided as a collective that people who assault their partners should be prosecuted. There is a national hotline established for victims to get support. There are laws in various states that limit access of firearms to violent partners. There are trials that even result in convictions. There is some, albeit very little, accountability.
Quite the contrary, police misconduct is just beginning to elicit societal condemnation. When Colin Kaepernick peacefully and silently protested against police brutality for an entire football season, his jersey was burned all across the nation, he was called a “son of a bitch” by the President of the United States, and was blacklisted from the NFL, for simply asking that police officers who murder and brutalize citizens be held accountable.
In any other instance when a human kills another human, it is considered murder or manslaughter. When police kill, there is an internal investigation, a grand jury usually declines to press charges, and occasionally city tax revenue is awarded as financial restitution to the family of the victim. In 2018, the Supreme Court even ruled that an officer who merely believes they are in danger when they kill a citizen qualifies for immunity from excessive force lawsuits.
It is clear, many Americans do not approve of silent protests or deafening uprisings. They have not yet decided the modus operandi for Black people to seek justice. They have decided that as we watch our children be slain in their homes and on the streets, we should neither complain or protest, and definitely not utter words declaring that our lives matter.
So for now … I am left with two “acceptable” options to protect my daughters. I am force-fed two words that politicians, celebrities and everyday citizens use in response to tragedies. Tragedies that shake our nation but have yet to shape policies or legislation. I am left with … “Thoughts and Prayers.”