Criminal InJustice† is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
A Letter to My Son
Here is my testimony – a letter from an African American Mother to her only son. My job – is to protect you from any and all who would seek to harm you, demean you, treat you as less than any other child. Yep, that is my job and let me tell you son, why the world, this society, this state and city makes it so difficult. Bottom-line, black life isn’t worth much. It never has been in this country and I’m concerned that it never will be. So let me offer my apology first to you for knowing that the world I want for you, is not the world you will inherit. Let me apologize to you for pushing you so hard, because I know other children with your same make-up and profile but with different skin color will have life immeasurably easy because they won’t have to, day in and day out, continue to prove, they aren’t stupid, dumb, incompetent, criminal, lascivious and lazy. I’m sorry but I love you and you give my life meaning.
But let me tell you a history of your life and why it is so important that you understand the constraints you face.
You see, I was born in 1970. Your family is large though not as close as it used to be when you were younger. But before, I was born, tragedy struck. I won’t go too much into the details, but homicide has been familiar to this family for so long. Your great-aunt, on your grandfather’s side was murdered with five arrows by her husband. Two children were left to deal with the ensuing trauma and raised by your paternal grandmother. One of the two children is still with us. After serving a few years in jail and a week after his release, the son of your great aunt was murdered, shot with a gun and died. Gone. Full circle, mother killed with bow and arrow by her husband, her husband divined the fate of your cousin when while killing his wife, he attempted to suffocate his own infant son who went on at the age of 25 to have the life suffocated out of him by a murder’s gun. Yes, this is all your history but I will not let it define you. Later, your maternal grandmother’s first cousin, a black man, with several children of his own was stabbed and killed in a bar. Yes, this trauma shaped the egg and the sperm that met to make me.
And before you were even born, your Uncle, who would have been such a great example for you was murdered, shot in the head, futilely left on life support when there was no hope, at all. I got the call when I was in North Carolina. I had dreamt something horrible happening two nights in a row before getting the call. I got that call early in the morning and well, I hope you never receive a call like that ever in your life. I hope you never know the feeling of mortality, the isolation, the aloneness that I feel. It was around the time that it became an obsession for me, thinking about who would be there to care for me in the end. Would I die alone? Fortunately, your uncle didn’t die alone. As I rushed home on Amtrak, praying against all hope that he would be okay, I had a headache that was unlike any other headache I’d ever experienced. It lasted for hours and then it went away. It was a headache that both me and my sister and my brother shared as my brother hung to life through a ventilator as his brain swelled. When he was moved from life support, while I was making my way home, and his life ended, my headache stopped. It just stopped. And with the headache leaving, so did your Uncle. And it was a salient and profound recognition that we were connected and that connection was gone forever.
So a few years later, when a man that I was dating, you don’t remember him because you were young, was missing, it never dawned on me that anything could be horribly wrong. I mean, how much death could there be out there for me? The phone calls that weren’t returned for days, until one day, I received a phone call at work saying that my friend, I was just getting to care for was in the morgue. Another young black man, gunned down, found not far from where I was living. He also left three children who had to mourn his loss. Christmas is always a reminder of that time I spent not able to get out of the bed, beside myself because, well, losing a loved one (which I have) via sickness is difficult. Losing someone who you just spoke to, trying to remember your last conversation, wondering about their fear when they knew what was inevitable, and their last moments, well, it brings me to my knees even today. And not knowing who, who, would pull the trigger purposely, was it a neighbor, someone you see on the street, did I have anything to fear....the thoughts are endless and there are no answers even as time passes...still no answers.
And remember that day this summer when you were supposed to come home from your grandfather’s and I told you to stay a few days longer. On that day, this summer, a man was shot on our street in a broad daylight, five doors down. Another young black man. His body lay on the street for hours until it was processed and removed. He was gunned down while riding his bike, for what reason I don’t know. I had nightmares that night and I’m only glad I didn’t go to the door immediately when I heard the gunshots. Because being a witness to a crime is dangerous and doing the right thing isn’t easy in these circumstances. And coming face-to-face with a murderer is something that would shake anyone to their core. So I waited to hear sirens. No sirens but glancing up later, I saw police lights and guessed it was safe to look out. There under a white, blood-stained sheet was someone’s son! I’m sure just as lovable and charming and LOVED as you are but in these matters, none of that resonates. In these matters, life and its value do not matter. You and so many others like you have thoroughly been objectified, dehumanized, criminalized, policed, mystified and mythologized so that the police just file murders like these away and chalk them up as the inevitable. The inevitable for little boys that grow up to be men who are either criminalized and incarcerated, killed with no justice seekers and/or ignored and deemed not worthy and/or employable.
So son, when I went to find this article that I read on Friday and I see this headline...
“4 killed in separate Philadelphia shootingsThat relates to this article -
Four men were killed Sunday in separate shootings across Philadelphia, police said.
That relates to this article -
Study: PA has second-highest rate of black homicide victims Pennsylvania has the second-highest rate of black homicide victims in the nation, according to a study released today by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
The study looked at 2008 FBI data and found that 449 of the state's homicide victims that year were black, which resulted in a black homicide rate of 31.05 per 100,000. Numbers for Philadelphia were not immediately available.
Police name 7 slain in 3 daysHow do I keep you safe? Will I ever have peace of mind? Young and old black men die from homicide every day. How do I do my job which is to protect you so you can go on to great things? How do I keep you from believing (because believing is wish fulfillment) that your fate is to be a chalk outline in a street one day? What do I have to do to keep you from being just another statistic, another dead black young man? How do I explain that store clerks, no longer find you the cutest charming child who they allow to ring up items, that now they see you worthy of tailing and shadowing in their stores? How can I show you that many will project their sexual fantasies on to you and degrade and dehumanize you for folly? How do I teach you about the projection of others inadequacies onto you? How do I show you that even though they fear you, you have far more to fear from them they would ever from you? How do I impress upon you that you do not get the benefit of the doubt like your white friends and peers? And how do I keep you from raging against this, rebelling against this no win situation when you begin to see what it is I’m telling you? Do you know why I’m so hard on you? Do you understand that when you are not with me, when you walk out the door and I can’t jump in front of any weapon formed against you, you are as vulnerable as the day you were born? And do you know that what is outside is much harsher and will have more consequences than anything you experience at home? And do you know how powerless that makes me feel? Do you know and understand that I have to think about this every day, son?
Homicide detectives are looking for the shooters who killed seven men in separate attacks around Philadelphia since noon Friday. The killings bring to 24 the number of people slain in the city this year, not including the woman and seven infants allegedly killed by abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell and whose deaths are counted in the police homicide statistics.
It is not your fault and I hold no resentment towards you. But I resent the hell out of a society that cares nothing for you and those like you because of your skin color and your gender. I resent that you can’t go and be free because of the lessons, I’ve learned, the people I’ve lost , the people you’ve lost that could have helped shape your life. And more importantly because this society is completely tolerable of letting their young black men waste away. Not only does this society tolerate it, it demands it.
I don’t want you to grow cynical like me but I embrace my cynicism for your life. Because yes, son, I’ve been through a lot and I’ve seen some bad days, but as God is my witness, I fight for your life because I’m fighting for mine because God knows that when you leave this earth, I’ll be right behind you because there is no me without you.
So son, we are in this together. When you grow, I grow. When you thrive, I thrive. When you hurt, I hurt. But despite it all, through the good and the bad, I know God put me on this earth to be your Mom.
| How beautiful if nothing more Than to wait at Zion's door I've never been in love like this before Now let me pray to keep you from The perils that will surely come See life for you my prince has just begun And I thank you for choosing me To come through unto life to be A beautiful reflection of his grace See I know that a gift so great Is only one God could create And I'm reminded every time I see your face|
To Zion, Lauryn Hill
Originally published at Critical Mass Progress
† © Copyright 2010-2011, Nancy A. Heitzeg, Kay Whitlock, and Seeta Persaud of CMP. All rights reserved. All articles and posts published by Criminal Injustice may not be distributed, re-published or cross-posted in any format, including print or electronic format, without express and explicit written permission from the copyright holders, including CI editors (Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock) and criticalmassprogress.com.