Me: (sobbing, hand over my mouth in horror, sitting behind my computer)
Hank: (playing a video game) Mama? You okay?
Me: Under no circumstance are you to walk over here right now.
Hank: Adult new?
Me: Adult news
Me: (witnessing the murder of Philando Castile on Facebook Live)
Me: (sobbing, listening to Philando Castile’s girlfriend recount again what happened and what she and her daughter went through, not noticing Hank listening from the couch)
Hank: Mama, Is this the adult news?
Hank: Mama, was her boyfriend killed?
Me: (pausing the video, taking a deep breath, closing my computer, opening my arms wide for a hug) Her name is Diamond. She lives in Minnesota. She has a daughter who is four and yesterday, after getting groceries the three of them were pulled over by a police officer.
Hank: And he killed her boyfriend?
Me: The police officer asked them if they knew they had a tail light out. They replied they didn’t know. Then her boyfriend did what every person in America who has a gun is supposed to do. He calmly told the officer, “ I am carrying a firearm. I have a license to carry a firearm.” The police officer asked them to raise their hand is the air (raising my hands in the air) then he asked the man to get his license and registration and that is when the officer panicked and shot him.
Hank: But he was doing what the officer said. Why, why did he shoot him?
Me: Because Philando or Phil as his friends called him was black.
Hank: What? Was it because of this skin?
Me: The officer panicked because he has been taught that black men aren’t to be trusted. He has been taught that black men carry guns to kill people where as white men carry guns to protect people. He has been taught that it is either his life or the life of the black citizen or Mexican citizen, basically the brown citizen he is employed to protect and when you are in a life or death situation you choose your life every time. And regardless of how this police officer thought he felt about black men, yesterday he acted based on what American society and possibly his biased police officer training told him and he murdered a man, in front of his girlfriend, in front of a child who loved him. (wiping my heart on my sleeve like a big red stain) The police officer shot multiple bullets into a car with a child in the backseat.
Me: Because the officer was scared. Because the system that trains officers is wrong. Because the officer didn’t see a man he saw a scenario that he was trained for. Because the officer wasn’t thinking he was reacting. Because the officer didn’t see the girlfriend who loved Phil, or the little girl who loved Phil. The police officer saw a black man with a gun and killed him for having it because he was driving down the road and his back taillight was out.
Hank: (still processing)
Me: Phil was 35 years old. He worked at an elementary school just like yours. If you were from St. Paul, Minnesota and went to his school you would have known him, seen him every day and you would never understand why this policeman could have killed him other than for the fact that he was black. This is racism. This is prejudice. Many people don’t know they are racist until a moment of high emotion and fear and intimidation and they react because of the color of skin.
Me: This is what a nation of white privilege can do. With your calm rational mind you may know that we are all equal, we are all one people, but in a moment of intense fear a person of color becomes a threat, regardless if they are or aren’t. This is what happens in a society where anyone is free to carry a gun until the color of your skin makes it a threat. (hot with anger)
Hank: It is like what my tio (uncle) said after that drunk man hit our tia (aunt) with his car and she died. He said two lives were lost, because that drunk man made the mistake that killed our tia (aunt) and his life is over, too. He lives but he will never be okay. That policeman will never be okay, because Phil is dead.
Me: And we will never be okay, because Phil and far too many other people have died because of racist fear and hate. Hank, this has to end with you.
Hank: There is no difference in people only in hearts and minds.
Me: (nodding, looking him in the eye) And you can educate and change a mind, but you can’t change skin. Hank, when you hear ignorant, prejudice hate speech you speak up. You respectfully educate and when you think you can’t handle a situation on your own you get an adult and let them help you voice the truth. No one is born with racism. It is learned and can be unlearned.
Hank: I feel so far away from America. I was born there but I don’t feel American when these things happen and they happen a lot.
Me: I always feel American, especially when these things happen. There are many reasons I chose to leave my country and guns and the hypocrisy of white privilege were a huge part of that reason. I am white and had a very hard time living in a place with such racial and wealth divide. Portugal isn’t a perfect place, but there is stricter gun control.
Hank: The kids at my school said many hateful things to Mariama because of her color. To me she is Mariama and she is beautiful. And people say stupid things to Irina about how her sister can’t be her sister because she is white and Irina is mulato (Portuguese for person of mixed European and African ancestry). That is so stupid and it isn’t important.
Me: That is where you are wrong, my love. It isn’t important to you because you are white and if you had been in the same situation as Phil the officer wouldn’t have killed you. It is important to anyone of color, because they are being murdered.
Hank: (realizing) Oh.
Me: (hugging him) Just yesterday a father of five named Alton was murdered by police. He was working and when the policemen went to question him he was wrestled to the ground and one of the officers noticed he had a gun in his back pocket and when he said gun the other officer holding him to the ground with Alton’s hands no where near the gun shot him multiple times killing him. I spent they day yesterday reading articles but avoided watching the film a bystander took of the murder because it is too graphic for me, true but too graphic and something I would always carry with me afterwards… And today I accidentally saw Phil die because the video was just there on Facebook playing and I couldn’t look away. No one could help, Phil or Alton or Trayvon, who was 17, or Tamir who was 12. They were killed by the people who were paid to protect them, but who were educated to see them as a threat. This we have to change. We will be the change in our community. We will not allow prejudice in our life.
Hank: I don’t, mama. When I hear something I tell a teacher, every time, or I say something. Mariama taught me that.
Me: An important lesson we need to keep teaching.