If a white mother of three in the suburbs, like me, is tired of hearing stories and watching footage of (young) black men being brutalized by police officers, I can’t even begin to imagine the exhaustion, desperation, heartache, and worry that the mothers of young black boys and men feel.
Without having to google their names or refer back to news articles, this is what I see when I close my eyes. I see Eric Garner being pulled to the ground as he repeats over and over these three words: “I can’t breathe.” I see Freddy Gray being dragged into a paddy wagon with a fully functioning body only to come out of the vehicle on the verge of death. He was dead within a week. I still see Walter Scott running away from police through a field, unarmed, only to be shot in the back by the police officer in pursuit.
To this day, the big brown eyes and bright smiles of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin still play through my mind. I see my former students in those boys. But how unjust that I don’t have to see my own sons in them while so many millions of mothers do. And how utterly depressing that more white mothers don’t stand with their fellow black mothers and say, “This must stop.”
And now, forever, I will hold the image of Laquan McDonald having 16 bullets pumped into his young body in the middle of a Chicago street. I will always know that a police officer arrived on the scene and in a few short seconds, unloaded his entire clip into a 17-year-old boy who could have been my student and who most definitely was someone’s whole world, someone’s son.
I will always know that it took 13 months to bring charges and for the public to even know about the case.
I will always know that without the courage of two whistleblowers, we likely would have never known.
I will always know that Officer Van Dyke, now charged with first degree murder, continued to be paid by the Chicago Police Department for thirteen months despite his superiors having seen the video likely within hours of the shooting.
I will always know that the police report was full of lies.
I will always know that someone in the police department erased 86 minutes of nearby restaurant security footage and that the shooting took place during those minutes.
I will always know that no one went over to Laquan to administer first aid or even check on him (and we know he was alive in the ambulance on the way to the hospital).
I will always know that the Police Union chose to stand by and defend Officer Van Dyke.
But perhaps most illustrative of how unfair the system still remains for African Americans, I will always know that none of this would ever have happened if one of my three white sons had been walking through the middle of the road with a 3-inch knife.
We can hope and pray for change but we also need courageous action at every level to attack this systemic corruption that we know is not unique to Chicago. If a police officer can unload a full clip into a teenager, surveillance video can be erased, and police documents can be riddled with lies, this isn’t just about a rogue police officer. This is about a corrupt system that does disproportionate harm to the black community. This is about modern day America.