Omari Grant

We hadn’t yet moved any furniture into our new place yet so there were lots of empty rooms and open space—perfect for cartwheels and handstands and robust games of tag. For kids, basically, to be kids. So I didn’t give even a second’s thought to my daughters and their cousins doing what they do as I inspected our apartment and started visualizing in my mind’s eye how I’d arrange the furniture and where I’d hang my favorite artwork and how long it would take for me to be done with it all so I could have a few friends over for a housewarming with wine. Lots of wine.

And then came the knock. Not even 10 minutes after I’d pushed the key into the door. It was building security. A “neighbor” was complaining about the noise. Apparently, there was lots of banging. And loud laughing. And doors slamming. None of which I thought was especially loud or egregious, but somehow, it warranted a phone call to the authorities. As did, apparently, my “loud” music and all the “bumping noises” that were made as we moved our furniture into the apartment a couple weeks later. That complaint triggered an email from the community manager.

Welcome to the neighborhood.

I mean, I get that not everybody is into children or Jay-Z and Jill Scott pumping from Bose speakers at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, but really? Calling “the law” on the new neighbors rather than, oh, I don’t know, knocking on the door, introducing yourself and letting me know that what we were doing could be heard in their small corner of our building would have been a much more neighborly way of handling the situation. And maybe even making a new friend who would be more inclined to respect reasonable boundaries rather than think of evil, awful ways to skirt right on the line of inappropriate just to annoy the crap out of The Evil Ones.

This is the way of The Evil Ones, you know—the people who take great pride in policing the homes/yards/space of others and then totally turn up when they see something/somebody that colors the stereotypes to which they cling. Think George Zimmerman stalking, attacking and killing young Black male Trayvon Martin. Think Martin Dunn hearing hip hop music blaring from a car full of Black teens and pumping nine bullets into said vehicle, killing Jordan Davis for talking back. Think Rodney Bruce Black, the 62-year-old white man who shot and killed brothers Garrick Hopkins and Carl Hopkins, Jr., as they inspected their newly-purchased home and property, which was adjacent to Black’s yard.

Or consider what happened to sweet Omari Grant, an 11-year-old child from Henry County, GA, who allegedly had a cop point a gun at his face and then order him and his friends to lay face-down and spread eagle on the ground for…

wait for it…

wait for it…

Building a tree house in his back yard.

You read that right: little Omari, all of two years into double digits, says he and his friends were verbally and physically abused by a police officer after said cop was called to the yard by a neighbor policing the boys’ movements. They were building a tree house with tree limbs and brush. The neighbor who called the cops on them thought something more nefarious was going on. In an interview with WSB-TV, Edgar Dillard, the neighbor’s husband, said his wife called police on the little boys because they were breaking limbs off a tree. “There were falling hazards, tripping hazards, all types of hazards,” Dillard said. “So No. 1 was concern for the children and concern for the environment.”

But we know what happens when black boys and nosy neighbors and cops with guns are involved: the potential for disaster and serious harm and injury to the boys is damn-near inevitable. Poor little Omari told his mother he was scared for his life, and told WSB-TV he laid down on the ground and took the cop’s abuse because, “I was thinking that I don’t want to be shot today,” he said, “so I just listened to what they said.”

Let’s be very clear about this thing: his fear is valid.

Of course, his mother filed a complaint against the cops for using excessive force against her son; police officials say they’re looking into the incident to determine whether the cops were in the wrong, but in the meantime, police officers who pull guns out on little black boys for building tree houses in their backyards continue to carry firearms and wear badges and patrol neighborhoods in Henry County, waiting for nosy neighbors to call the cops on Black kids for being… kids.

I suppose that talking to the boys herself would have proven too much for Mrs. Dillard. Walking over to Omari’s house and introducing herself to his mom and letting her know she was concerned her little boy would get hurt would have proved equally hard, huh? Better to call the law and get all neighborhood watch a la George Zimmerman with it because who needs to treat black neighbors like… neighbors? Like they belong?

Lucky for my neighbors, I have a nice streak in me. And occasionally, with some pep talks from the hubs, it rears its head, as was the case after our neighbors sent building security to my door the second time in only one week of living at our place. I went to my local Kroger, bought a bunch of plants and knocked on the doors of the two neighbors who live on either side of us and the ones who live above and below us respectively. I introduced myself like a good neighbor, gave each of them my business card with my personal cell phone number scribbled on it, a plant and explained that though I’d lived in apartments before, my daughters, who’d only lived in houses their whole lives, needed to get used to the idea of sharing their private space with others living all around them. But, I added, it would be great if everyone understood that really, they’re little girls and their full of life and they do kid stuff that sometimes is noisy. “Respect that, and I’ll make sure they respect you,” I promised.

That, after all, is the neighborly thing to do.

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Denene Millner

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.


  1. Saddens me that we always have to go to such lengths to prove that we and now our children are not a threat to grown people. I have 3 boys and I’m so scared for the climate we are living in now. Thank you for handling this with such dignity and class.

  2. This so makes me sick…sick like gasping for air being suffocated by the very world I attempt to walk around in. An 11 year old child is just being 11 and as a mother of a 15 year old son this disgusts me! The fear of being shot is so real and so absurd at the same time. I pray God eases this young mans mind as this type of day will be forever apart of his thoughts and nightmares..ugh!

  3. Hello young lady,how are you? I found your piece very charming and pointed. Good job.I am an Old G.I have grown children, born and raised in Oakland California. I remember getting the talk from my mother about how to handle police at ten years of age. Unfortunately, things haven’t improved much since then. True story.

    My neighbor once told a “funny story” about pulling a shotgun on my two boys as they walked around the property looking for me. In that moment he told the story. I ripped him a third earhole. Understand, my boys were living with the time.. Most telling and upsetting was the casualness of his attitude. He seemed disconnected from the seriousness and potential for disaster his honest mistake might od caused. Moreover, my feelings and those of my boys were dismissed. But I will tell you something: It continues because we allow it to continue.

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