I Had to Explain Police Brutality to My Young Son… and It Hurt

by Ariel C. Williams

In this gut-wrenching video, a tear drenched Lesley McSpadden, mother of slain Michael Brown, reminded African Americans of a truth we’ve grown to know: “They ain’t never gonna care.”

After hearing a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, McSpadden went to an equally confused and distraught crowd to voice her frustrations. “They want him back in Ferguson. I can’t get nobody back.”

Obviously on her side, the crowd yelled things like “Burn this bitch down!” and “No justice, no peace!” All while still assuring her that they loved her and had her back. McSpadden constantly asked, “Why?” after assuring whoever would listen that she’d never done anything to hurt or bother anyone. Nothing that she could’ve ever done in a lifetime warranted her unarmed son being killed in the middle of the street in broad daylight like a dog.

Commenters throughout social media have vilified Michael Brown, while blaming what’s believed to be his normal "thuggish" behavior on his single mother and father. Some comments stated that McSpadden should’ve raised Brown better, while others hit straight for the jugular, saying that he deserved to die, as well as most Black people.

Being taught at an early age the racial injustices and discrimination against Black people in America, I found it necessary to share the same lessons to my son. The thing is, he’s elementary-aged and dreams of being a cop when he’s bored with The Hulk.

The morning following the grand jury’s decision to keep Wilson a free man, I was disturbed and must have worn it on my face.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” he asked me.

I half-smiled and briefly explained police brutality to my son over breakfast. With knots in my stomach, I explained to him the best way I could that sometimes, innocent, unarmed Black boys are killed by police officers and anyone else who hates Black skin. With a toy gun in his hand—similar to the one that cost 12-year-old Tamir Rice his life (I’ve since thrown it away)—he looked at me with confusion and sadness. The same look I can imagine Brown and Rice had before taking their last breaths.

He asked me if they’d done anything wrong and several other questions that I tried my best to answer without crying. As bad as it hurt to discuss these issues with my baby, I remembered that I have a luxury some boys’ mothers don’t have, and that’s simply having a conversation with them. I further went on to explain slavery to him. Not the watered down version that’s plastered on the covers of children’s books at our local library, showing a dirty child with worn clothes, a rag doll and a row boat. No, because nothing about slavery should be so familiar to him that he identifies with it, thinking it was or is normal. I taught him about the open wounds on flesh. The harshness of living on dirt floors with no covering. The reality of eating scraps that an animal would laugh at. The cruelties of being sold away from family and having no way to contact them again due to no education or guidance. His expression went from being sad to interested and curious, like mine did as a child.

“Did the White people kill them?”

“Yes, they did, baby.”


“I don’t know. Because they could.”

Answering his questions about slavery in a way that he could comprehend made me realize how far we’ve come, but that many things are still the same.

Did White people kill Brown and Rice? Yes.

Why? Because they could.

And like the slave masters and plantation owners, these policemen will go home as free men and sleep well after a hot meal while Black mothers go insane without their babies. I ended the conversation on a positive note filled with assurance, kisses, and safety tips. Within minutes, my son returned to cartwheels and flips liked we’d never had that six minute conversation to begin with.

“They’re wrong! Y’all know y’all wrong!” McSpadden’s been criticized for being less than eloquently vocal about her strong feelings on her son’s death and the city she lives in.

With this on my mind, I broke down thinking of the slain victim’s families, their souls, and the fact that I could read my son a “good book” about Martin Luther King, Jr. one day and briefly chat about racism (in 2014) the next day. I wept for communities that have been broken at the knees by racism, terrorism, and misplaced (and misunderstood) community anger. I cried for the innocent bystanders who’ve been harmed.

Most importantly, I empathized with and screamed for the mothers, because regardless of race or case, no mother should have to teach her young children about police brutality. And no mother should ever have to bury them because of it.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Ariel C. Williams creates branded content and manages social media for creative entrepreneurs. She’s also a writer, #asntalk host and Author of The Girl Talk Chronicles. Connect with her on Twitter: @ArielSaysNow.

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