By NICK CHILES
Currently unfolding inside a Manhattan courtroom, couched in the language and apparatus of the U.S. legal system, is a rare window into black parenting in America.
Technically it is a trial to determine the constitutionality of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. Using that policy, the police in New York over the last decade have stopped and searched millions of black and Hispanic young men in the city, seemingly for no reason other than their skin color. A class action lawsuit filed against the city on behalf of these young men seeks to have a federal judge declare the policy an unconstitutional violation of their rights.
But what the trial is demonstrating, in emotional and painful testimony, are the worst fears of every black parent of a male child, sprung to life on the streets of New York. From the day that little brown boy slides into the world, the thought keeping you tossing at night is that when biology kicks in and he begins to sprout and spread, your little boy will suddenly be seen by the world as some sort of vague threat. By the melanin in his skin, his individuality will be stolen away, replaced by the things he represents: criminal, thug, gang member, evil.
These parental fears, this lurking paranoia we parents carry with us, were yanked from the pit of our stomachs by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and molded into an actual city policy. Stop most every young black or Hispanic male you see, particularly in certain neighborhoods, and determine whether you can find a reason to arrest them. In other words, by the mere fact that they are young and black or brown and in New York City, that’s reason enough to presume they are in the midst of wrong-doing. It is a policy that is shocking in its bold-faced racism, and it has had a devastating impact on the lives of millions of black and brown males in New York.
A few of them are getting their chance to explain in a Manhattan courtroom just how much this disturbing policy has intruded on their right to live peaceably just like everybody else in the city they call home. Even if you don’t have a young black boy in your house, you should be outraged by how arbitrary and unfair this policy is.
Consider the case of 16-year-old Devin Almonor. Almonor told federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin that he was stopped when he was just 13, after spending the day riding a bike and playing video games with a friend. After walking the friend to his bus stop and waiting with him there, Devin headed home, pausing for a time in front of a bodega after running into friends.
Just think about the day Devin has just had. Bike riding, playing video games, talking to friends in front of the candy store. This is the quintessence of a 13-year-old boy’s existence. From New York City to smalltown Anywhere USA, it doesn’t get more innocent and rose-colored than that.
But Devin’s life is about to be radically and irreparably transformed. In the blink of an eye, Mr. and Mrs. Almonor’s little boy will cease from being an innocent 13-year-old and turn into Young Black Male Criminal—at least in the eyes of the NYPD.
As Devin continued on his way, two plainclothes officers emerged from a car to question him.
“I told them I was 13,” Devin said to the judge. “After they patted me down, they pushed me up against the car.”
He said the officers then handcuffed him. “I was crying,” he said.
This is how the city lawyer defended the actions of the officer.
Attorney Suzanna Publicker said the cellphone Devin had in his front pocket might have “created a bulge,” suggesting that it might have resembled a concealed weapon to a police officer.
Yes, the bulge in a 13-year-old’s pocket could be a gun—only if you look at a 13-year-old boy and see a criminal.
But Devin’s story didn’t end there. After the boy was taken to the 30th Precinct house in East Harlem, his parents showed up at the police station. You see, Devin’s dad, Merault Amonor, was a retired police officer. Uh oh. They had messed with the wrong little black boy. When the confrontation at the station house was over, both of Devin’s parents had been arrested—and Mr. Amonor had punched a female officer in the face. He was later acquitted of the charges.
But the point is that it doesn’t matter to the NYPD whose little boy they are handcuffing and throwing against the wall. If they are black or brown, they are all the same. Likely criminals. And that is every black parent’s worst nightmare.
This important legal challenge to New York’s stop-and-frisk policy will be going on for the next two months. We will be checking in from time to time here at MyBrownBaby to follow developments.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.