‘Are YOU okay, ma’am?’ The officer was staring at my passenger, my 15-year-old son. Her hand shot right back on her gun.’: Mom speaks out about racism against son, ‘My skin protected him’

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“I have been hesitant to talk about my son through all of this. I did not want to use his blackness as a platform. Being an adoptive mother of a black son does NOT give me any first-hand knowledge or experience of what it is like to live in black skin. Even when we had our encounters with racism, I had the power of my white privilege to stand up for my rights. I do have a second-hand knowledge (so to speak), as a witness of racial profiling, and the secondary pain of one who loves my son. However, as I see so much pushback from those scrambling to continue to blame black people for their encounters with law enforcement, I wanted to share a couple of stories, with the hope that scales can be lifted.

My family moved to a new home after my husband was relocated. We purchased a home that had been empty for about 6 months. We arrived the day before the moving truck, to prep the home. I was inside painting and my 14-year-old son was raking the leaves in the front yard. Within the FIRST HOUR of my son out front, I hear the sound of cars racing down the street. I go outside to find THREE squad cars parked in my driveway and police rushing out of the car. I had no fear of the police, as why would I? And I walk right up to them to inquire what is going on. I could clearly see, the moment they saw me, a change in their faces and demeanor — instant calm.

They explained that somebody called to report there was ‘somebody’ at this house who was not supposed to be there. All I had to do was say was I was the new owner, and they took my word for it and left.

So many questions. Why did the person who called ASSUME a 14-year-old child raking leaves was up to no good, committing some kind of crime that merited calling the police? Why THREE squad cars in response to a 14-year-old kid raking leaves? Why did my presence instantly calm them? Why did they simply take my word that I was the new home owner without asking me for proof? I will leave those deductions for others to derive.

Another day, while driving on an open road, I sped up to pass a car. In the process of doing so, I was driving over the speed limit. Perfect place, perfect time, passed right by the police. I got pulled over for breaking the law. I BROKE THE LAW! It took unusually long for the officers to get out of the car, and I could see them talking to each other. Each got out, slowly approached my car, with their hands on their guns. That had never happened to me before, so I thought it strange.

As the officer cautiously approached my window, I already had my license out and was holding it to the window. She didn’t take it. Instead, she was looking at my passenger, my 15-year-old passenger. She asked me, ‘Are YOU okay, Ma’am?’ She stared at him with a look I had never seen in an officer before…it was like she was afraid. Again, I gestured for her to take my license. She asked me for my passenger’s drivers license. I said clearly stated, he is only 15 and does not have a license. She then asked for his school ID, and I said it was a Sunday and he does not have it with him. I explained, ‘He is my son.’ She then requested his Social Security number.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have protested in that instant. But I was so confused, I was not used to this kind of police interaction. I provided his SS number. The two officers proceeded to go back to the car. 45 MINUTES we sat there, waiting, while they ran their background checks. Checking NOT on me, but rather on my son. This became clear when they provided me information about my son when returning to the car. I stated, ‘I would like to get out of my car, to speak with you.’ Hand shot right back on her gun, again asking, ‘Are you okay, Ma’am?’ I said I was fine, but would like to step out of the car and speak to them. They allowed me, and again I was able to use my whiteness as privilege and power to confront them on this racial profiling, with no fear of retaliation.

So many questions. Why was the assumption that I was in danger and in need of help? Why was the focus on a 15-year-old child, when I was the one who broke the law?

These are only 2 events, of the many, where my son was under scrutiny, for no reason, other than the color of his skin. My son was considered a threat, or assumed that he was doing wrong, based on the color of his skin.

My skin ‘vouched’ for him. My skin ‘made him okay.’ My skin had the power to push back against racial profiling and inequality. My skin.

In all my interactions with law enforcement, I have been able to reason with them, and I have been listened to. My word and report have been considered and accepted. Even in instances related to my work in crisis situations, I have been able to use my power (skin color) to push back when I feel the officers were not handling the situation appropriately….and they have backed down.

For the first 40 years of my life, I had NO experiences even remotely resembling those of what our brothers and sisters with black and brown skin spoke about. I have had the benefit of being listened to, so I assumed there must be something wrong with the way others speak to law enforcement was the problem. I, too, had the instinct to react to those stories with disbelief, as I had no personal reference that I could draw on to make that connection. I, too, reacted with all those implicit biases, that it must be because they are breaking the law or doing something to deserve the officer treatment they received. I had my lens. And like many of us, I gauged my lens against the lens of others’ experiences, and assumed my lens was the correct lens.

Beg my pardon for what I am about to say next. It may come across as brazen and maybe even ruffle some feathers. When it comes to the issue of systemic racism and police brutality against those with black and brown skin…we as a white collective have no grounds to have an opinion that rejects its reality. Just because we have not experienced it, does not mean it is not a reality. And in fact, the fact we have not experienced it gives further proof to the reality that it is a racial issue. Please my brothers and sisters: rip off those scales, and become a part of the solution.”

Courtesy of Noelle Palmer

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Noelle Palmer. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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