Saturday, March 24, 2012

The boy in the hoodie.

My boy, Isaiah on the way to school. . . .in his hoodie.

A boy was walking with a hoodie on. Walking through a neighborhood talking on his cellphone with a hoodie on. A man saw him and didn't like what he saw. The hoodie, the way he was walking, the all of it.

"Something's wrong with him," that man said. "He must be on drugs or something."

But he wasn't on drugs. He was simply on the phone. Talking to his girlfriend. With a hoodie pulled over his head. Did I mention that it was raining? Oh, well it was. Perhaps that could explain the hood on his head.


That man who saw the boy kept watching. The more he watched the more he worried. He even called 911. 

"There's a suspicious guy out here," he told the dispatcher.

And that dispatcher listened and asked questions. Questions like, "What does he look like?" and "What is he doing?"  

And that man shared that he was a black male. And that he was walking. But that it looked suspicious.

The boy was talking to his girlfriend and felt worried by the way this man was watching him. "Run!" she told him. He agreed that this is what he should do. To get away from those scary, accusatory eyes that were on him. So that's what he did. He ran.

"He's running!" That's what that man told the 911 dispatcher. And through pants into the phone he repeated it. "He's running!"  

The dispatcher asked that man if he was chasing the boy. When it was obvious that he was, the dispatcher calmly told him, "We don't need you to do that." But he did it anyway. He sure did.

He chased the boy. And eventually he caught up with him. They scuffled a bit. In fact, they scuffled more than just a bit.

That boy was afraid. He was screaming out for someone to help him. Someone, anyone help. And then, a gunshot. Straight to the chest. 

And the boy was gone.

Just like that a boy with a hoodie, a cellphone and a pack of Skittles in his pocket that he'd just bought for his brother was gone. A son, a brother, a grandson, a friend. Gone. 

What happened next is even sadder.  The man who shot that gun said he'd done so in self defense. And without further questioning, he was let go. Just like that.

Somebody's son, brother, grandson, and friend was gone in an instant and it didn't even warrant much more investigation. 

Turns out that the boy in that hoodie didn't have any criminal record. Turns out that he was an athlete and a kind big brother who would run to the store to get candy for his little brother during halftime. Even if it was raining. 

It also turns out that the man who shot him had a history of calling the police. In fact he had called the police more times in that year before than many of us will in our entire lifetimes put together. He'd even assaulted a police officer before. He sure had.

But that part wasn't taken into consideration that day. That day when that man shot and killed that boy, all the police saw in his corpse was his hoodie and, of course, that suspicious black skin of his.

And this is sad. Very, very sad.

Yes, I think this was about race. Yes, it hurt me somewhere deep because that black boy in the hoodie could be my son or my nephew or my godson or the child of any one of many of my friends. And yes, being a black woman and a black mother of black sons, this cuts me straight down to the white meat. Yes, it does.

But all of this makes me sad for other reasons, too. I hate it that there are black boys in hoodies that do kick in doors and hold people up. I hate it that for many complicated reasons this country has so many black boys in hoodies that feel like they have nothing to lose. 

My husband was once pulled over on the side of a major street in Atlanta. Pulled over in his own car that happened to be a BMW. A "black man in sweats" had just carjacked a woman for her BMW that happened to fit the description of the one my husband owned. "Get down on the ground," the police told Harry. He refused. And fortunately, before it got ugly, they ran his license and plates and learned that he was not that "black man in sweats." 

But what makes me sad is that there was a black man in sweats somewhere. The one who did take that car. At least, allegedly there was.

That makes it hard for boys like Trayvon and men like Harry. And for children like Isaiah and Zachary? That sucks.

Yes. I want racism to go away. I want someone to run it out of town until it never comes back. But. Just as much, I'm tired. Tired of driving down the street and seeing my little brothers standing on corners with pants slung under their bottoms. I'm tired of seeing them passing tiny plastic bags filled with rocks to my sisters and aunties and uncles, too. I hate seeing their faces on the evening news or captured on hidden cameras in convenience stores wielding guns in scared shop owners' faces. Because that isn't helping things. At all.

Sometimes I hear a story about a crime and automatically start chanting, "Please don't be black, please don't be black, please don't be black--damn, he was black."  And I wish I could count how many times that has happened to me. But I can't. And that pisses me off that my boys and my husband  and people like Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis are up against this kind of reputation.

We've got to love on our children and build them up to believe that they, too, can be Barack Obama. Teach them, show them that they are more than sagging pants and poor choices. But that takes time and love and consistency. That takes nurture and resources and a belief that you can and are raising kings and queens. It also helps if you grew up with some sort of template of how to do that. And when it comes to blacks in this country, that isn't as easy as it sounds.

It kind of makes me think of the day I wrote about what happens when people don't "represent." Or rather, when they do represent all of us by doing things that make us all seem suspicious. And as long as that continues, woe to the boy Trayvon Martin, and woe to my sons, too.

I'm sad. Sad that this happened. Sad that we are even talking about this again. Again.

I honestly think that man who shot Trayvon Martin was mentally off. No, that doesn't excuse him but anyone who calls 911 as many times as he had and who had assaulted a police officer is probably not right. 

And the cops who blew it all off? Who had so little regard for that boy's life that they immediately assumed that he had it coming? That chills me to the bone. Just like it chilled me to the bone when the police in Atlanta assumed my husband was violent enough to order him to lay on some dirty concrete just because he looked like someone who stole a car.

Sigh. I don't even know what else to say about all of this. It's just so layered. 

But I will say this:

Man, America. We've got to do better. Period.

 Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . if only more of our kids knew that they were this.


  1. I love you.

    White America, we sure as hell need to do better, too. With the making excuses and refusing to take responsibility, with blinding ourselves to injustices, with conveniently playing with statistics to make it seem like it's only "others" who do the crimes, with perpetrating hate crimes both large and small, with creating at minimum a constant undercurrent of fear and loathing, with isolating ourselves and depersonalizing Trayvon and so many others. With so, so many things.

    And you know what else pisses me off? From here in Azerbaijan I can't be sure, but it looks like mostly Black people in the rallies and protests about Trayvon's murder, and it was mostly Black friends who posted about this on Facebook.

    Trayvon's murder is NOT a black thing. It's a human rights thing. It's an American thing. And while I cannot feel the same as you do because I do not have Black sons, I do love many and still take this very personally.

  2. Oh Grady Doctor, this is such a sad, sad post. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and compassion about such a horrible situation with us.

  3. See- you wrote it just like I knew you would.
    And I keep saying the same things- the guy who shot him had to be insane. And that is sad and horrible but the most criminal aspect of all is that they let that guy JUST GO HOME AFTER HE SHOT A HUMAN BEING WITH A GUN IN THE CHEST!
    Yeah. Sanford, Florida has a lot to explain and there will be changes made but why does it always have to come from tragedy?
    You know I've been thinking about your sons during this whole thing. You know that.
    We're not right yet. Maybe one day we'll be better. Not in time for Trayvon.
    I am loving you.

  4. Thank you, dear Lisa, for framing this with your usual unflinching honesty, compassion, love.

    Sadly, proportionately more white males commit crimes, yet they are not targeted in the same way, they are not subject to stereotypes, they are allowed to dignity of walking through the world defined by their individual actions, rather than being endangered by the stereotypes that attach to them based on centuries of racial animus and the actions of a few, inflamed by media creations like Cops, which focus on inner city neighborhoods and get away with putting onscreen the most disenfranchised among us. yes, young black men. The idea that our young men commit all the crimes is not truth. But it's what's blared across the screen more often than not, and it slips right into a deep groove in the nation's consciousness, no effort at all.

    All we can do is raise our sons and our daughters to give their best, to act from the place of their highest good, to know their own worth. you do that every day so beautifully.

    And we pray.

  5. "...that isn't as easy as it sounds."

    It doesn't sound easy at all.

  6. Lucy -- I've missed you! Thanks for commenting.

    NOLA -- I love you right back.

    SD -- And thank you for always taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. I appreciate it.

    Sister Moon -- You already know how much I am loving you.

    Angella -- Thank you for these wise words. You are always wise which is why I looked forward to your comment. Thanks for that insight.

    Oh and a funny thing -- there is a medical student I work with who's name is LEAH but someway, somehow I got in the habit of calling her LAUREN when I know her name is LEAH. So for the record, I know you know my name is Kimberly, not Lisa and that you probably remembered it after finished the CAPTCHCA and hit publish. Please know that this is okay because what I know about you is that you always use my name when you are making the dialogue more personal. I felt that. So thank you as always for being you.

  7. Stephanie -- On second thought, it isn't is it?

  8. Heartbreaking. Yes, America, we all have to do better.

    We need to invest more in ALL of our children and their futures, and invest in peace instead of war. Instead of using our energy, time, talent, and resources going across the world killing innocent people, what if had used the $15.5 trillion national debt we accrued since 2000 for: education, mental health care, community building, job training, drug treatment programs, and the list goes on and on.

    I wonder how we will decide to use our nation's resources over the next 12 years? Dig ourselves deeper, or move forward in a healthier direction for our land & all of our people?

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful and beautifully written post, Dr. Manning!


  9. Hard to read & look at the pictures of my nephew... the whole thing is so upsetting.

  10. You have so eloquently said what we all have been thinking. Bravo!

  11. Kimberly/Lisa

    Darn it! I did it again. Called you Lisa. here's the truth. You remind me of a woman I love named Lisa, a dear friend of mine, and I was talking to her this morning, she is just a bedrock goof soul, as you are, and then I got on here right after, and called you Lisa. I swear it was with love. But I'm sorry to call you anything other than your beautiful name, Kimberly.

    Kimberly. I will try not to do it again. Thank you for the kindness with which you tugged my sleeve, when you could have just wondered about the hole in my brain!

    Love, dear Kimberly. I do know your name.

  12. Angella-- Oh no worries, dear heart! Remember that my best friend's name is Lisa and we have been mistaken for 20 years! No offense whatsoever--in fact it made me smile because I knew you'd remember and then return. Which is win-win for me!

  13. This touched my heart. Thank you for your thoughts. That family is hurting, the nation is hurting and why? I don't know how the shooter was able to just go home and Trayvon will never be able to grow up. It's a sad scary world we live in. Thank you for being real.

  14. kim- i'm just sitting here bawling at this. damn that is so wrong and so wrong all over again- maybe it touches close to home in a new way now being here, surrounded by beautiful black people all day everyday. your post is so so wise- you touch on all of it- even the heartbreak of black brothers who perpetuate that wrong image- i just miss you so much. we have much to talk about - to process when i come home in december.

  15. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words.

    Trayvon Martin's story has been skewering my heart for more than two weeks (I can't even count the days any more), and every time I think I can leave it behind, it catches me and punches me in the gut.

    How many times have I told my boys to yell, run, and call for help if a stranger approaches them? Thousands, probably. Have I been painting a target on their chests with my motherly advice?

    And what are we supposed to do with our children's hooded shirts? Cut off the hoods? Throw away the shirts? Then what will become the "suspicious" article of clothing on a black boy or young man tomorrow? A pair of jeans? A Hawaiian shirt? Where does it stop?

  16. Incredibly horrifically tragic.

    I bawled the whole way through. Not only for Trayvon, but for all the young black boys who are just doing what ALL boys do, talking to their girl on the phone with a bag of Skittles in their pocket.


  17. I have been waiting for weeks for your commentary. And as of the mother of two black boys, my heart and soul aches. I keep asking myself what is the difference between Mamie Till and
    Sybrina Fulton outside of 57 years? The answer sadly, nothing.

  18. That whole Trayvon story just makes me sick with sadness for this country and how little progress it has made in this and other areas. Your writing, as always, is touching and eloquent. x0 N2

  19. Kim...

    It's been so long since I've read your blog (life got crazy), but I came over to see what you would have to say- and wasn't disappointed...

    I am so sad for our boys. And so scared, sometimes, too. Sometime, I'd love to know what you teach your boys- seems to be such a delicate balance between encouraging a strong, independent, loving spirit and yet creating an careful awareness of such things.

    Hugs to you and your family. :)
    "Becs" - from Live Out Loud


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