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Monday, July 11, 2016

One Child's Fears--The Children's March for Philandro Castile

My little one didn't tell me this while we were marching, along with all the children, on foot and in strollers, the adults toting babies, my oldest helping a mom pull a wagon with two small girls tucked in with pillows, my husband waving at cars that stopped to honk in support. 

My little one didn't say anything as we turned the first corner and the police car honked a little to get ahead of us so they could block the traffic. She didn't say anything when the children rounded the corner onto the busy street. 

She didn't tell me while we walked in the heat down the street past the coffee shop, or when we turned again toward our school where the flag still stood at half-mast for our cafeteria supervisor, Philando Castile. 

She didn't tell me through the speeches, or say anything when she finally got bored and went to play on the jungle gym, or later, when we came home and tried to watch a funny movie together. 

No, my child waited until we were driving to the thrift store the next day to explain that she had been afraid throughout the whole march--afraid that the police might shoot one of the African-American children who were marching alongside us. Children like the little girl clinging to her mommy with one hand, and in the other, toting a sign that said, "I'm just learning to read. Am I next?" 

Children like five-year-old Kenandrian Mack, riding his daddy's big shoulders. 

"I thought the police might shoot them," she said. 

"You thought they might get shot?" Its hard to put yourself in the mind of a child. So, I took my default position with a child when I don't know what to say--I asked questions. 

She said, "Well, Mr. Phil was a nice man. He didn't do anything wrong. And they shot him. The policeman shot him." 

How do you answer that? When it is the truth? 

I tried. "We live in a city where the officers are mostly nicer than that. Last night, Papa and I were talking to one policeman who went to Middle School with Mr. Phil and said he was a fabulous guy, just like we know him to be." 

(I didn't say that the officer, who seemed sincere, also said he knew that they would find out that Phil had done something--something--something--that had caused him to get shot. He was certain.) 

"I thought maybe it was silly," my daughter said. "But I was afraid all the same. Mr. Phil didn't do anything wrong. And he was such a nice man. So I was scared. Of the police." 

I drove in silence. My child is not silly. Not at all. So--what about that little girl just learning to read--will she be a target when she grows up? Will little Kenandrian? 

Or will we have managed--can we join together, can we do it? Can we change the laws to protect their black bodies before they're deemed old enough to be judged criminals on sight? It's only a few years--society judges black children to be "mature" long before it views white children that way. Do our children have to stay afraid? Can we do it? 

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