Child Watch® Column: “Ten Rules to Help Black Boys Survive”

Release Date: July 24, 2015

Marian Wright Edelman

Democracy cannot breathe, and will die, if those enjoined to protect and uphold the law snuff it out unjustly and without consequence. Justice cannot breathe when Black men and boys and women and girls are routinely profiled, abused, arrested, and killed with impunity by police officers. We must stop this. We must protect the lives of our young people—all of them. God did not make two classes of people or children and America continues to do so at its peril.

Like so many I have been deeply disturbed by the senseless loss of Black male lives at the hands of law enforcement officials. I was particularly affected by Tamir Rice’s senseless death—a 12-year-old sixth grader who loved drawing, basketball, playing the drums, and performing in his school’s drumline. Sometimes his teacher had to remind him not to tap a song on his desk with his fingers. When Tamir, a mere boy child, was shot and killed last November, who was there to protect him?

Not Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann—the man who shot him. Tamir was sitting outside a recreation center near his home holding a friend’s toy gun when Loehmann careened up in his squad car with his training officer. The surveillance video shows Loehmann took less than two seconds between getting out of the barely-stopped car and shooting Tamir. Worse, this child was left mortally wounded on the ground in agony for nearly four minutes while neither Loehmann nor his trainer Frank Garmback administered any first aid. An FBI agent who happened to be nearby responded to the police activity and was the first one to try to give Tamir help. When Tamir’s 14-year-old sister ran to see and comfort him she was tackled by a police officer, handcuffed, and put in the back of a squad car unable to comfort her stricken brother. When Tamir’s mother arrived at the same time as the ambulance the police wouldn’t let her get close to her son and she said they threatened to handcuff and arrest her too if she didn’t calm down. She was then denied entrance to the back of the ambulance to ride with or hold the hand of her son on the way to the hospital. I can only imagine the deep terror of both mother and child isolated from each other. Tamir died from his injuries the next day.

Who was there to protect Tamir? Not the Cleveland Police Department, who supposedly hired Officer Loehmann and put him out on their city’s streets before fully reviewing his previous record as a police officer. His personnel file from the Independence, Ohio Police Department shows he resigned in December 2012 just five months after he started training when he learned a disciplinary process of separation had already begun—appearing to have quit before he was fired. His previous supervisors said he displayed “a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion, and not following instructions,” a “dangerous loss of composure during live range training,” and an “inability to manage personal stress.” These red flags for the Independence Police Department should have been warning signs for Cleveland or any police department in assessing fitness for service. The Cleveland Police Department has a long history of bad policing that harms Black boys and men and those with mental illness. Just days after Tamir was killed the U.S. Department of Justice released harshly critical results of a civil rights investigation on overuse of force by the Cleveland police department and called for massive reforms.

The scene that unfolded in the minutes Tamir lay on the ground bleeding without comfort from anyone is perhaps the hardest part to understand. What kind of human beings and responsible law enforcement officials would act this way? Gunning down a 12-year-old, threatening his distraught sister and mother, and standing by watching a child just shot lying on the snowy ground dying?

Who was there to protect Tamir? In the end, no one. Now a child who might have become a musician or an artist or anything else he wanted to be is dead, and his mother has joined a long, long list of Black mothers crying out for justice. A few weeks after Tamir’s death she stood at a Washington, D.C. rally with Trayvon Martin’s mother and the families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other urnarmed Black boys and men killed by police and told the crowd: “I have one thing to say to the police force: Don’t shoot. Our children want to grow up.”

Our children want to grow up. Our children deserve to grow up. And it is the responsibility of every adult in every sector to see they grow up safely and respected and seen and are not subject to “othering”—as someone less than or apart from ourselves. Until we can achieve a profound change in law enforcement culture and their taking as much care in protecting Black boys’ lives as White boys’ lives, our children are going to remain at risk. That places a burden on Black parents and faith congregations and community leaders and educators and everyone who believes in justice to stand up and do everything possible to make sure our children get home safely and can reach adulthood.

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I am so grateful that the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is the Senior Pastor, is sharing the two-minute video message “Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival If Stopped by the Police” to help Black parents and every member of the community help stop the killing of Black children. We must talk to our children. We must show them this video. We must post these ten rules for survival everywhere:

       
   

Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival If Stopped by the Police

 
 

1.

Be polite and respectful when stopped by the police. Remember that your goal is to get home safely. Your goal is to get home safely.

 
 

2.

If you feel your rights have been violated, you and your parents have the right to file a formal complaint with the local police jurisdiction

 
 

3.

Do not, under any circumstances, get in an argument with the police.

 
 

4.

Always remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in court.

 
 

5.

Keep your hands in plain sight. Make sure the police can see your hands at all times.

 
 

6.

Avoid physical contact with police officers. Do not make any sudden movements and keep your hands out of your pockets.

 
 

7.

Do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not run—even if you are afraid.

 
 

8.

Even if you believe you are innocent, do not resist arrest.

 
 

9.

If you are arrested, do not make any statements about the incident until you are able to meet with a lawyer or public defender.

 
 

10.

Stay calm and remain in control. Watch your words. Watch your body language. Watch your emotions.

 
   

Remember, your goal is to get home safely.

 

These rules would not have saved Tamir Rice, who never got a chance to say a word. The officer never really saw Tamir. The dispatcher who had been told the gun he was holding was probably a toy must not have thought that information from an inner city address was important enough to transmit. I hope we will see justice served in Tamir’s case soon so that parents and children in Cleveland can see a sign of hope that Black boys’ lives truly matter. And I hope that Trinity’s rules will help save some children’s lives until we can build the kind of America and law enforcement culture that respects the sanctity of every child as if he or she were our own.


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Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Mari at: December 31, 2015
I liked this column because it isn't written with hate, only common sense.

Submitted by Mari at: December 31, 2015
I am an 89 year old grandmother, white, and can only imagine if something like this were to happen to one of my grandchildren or great grandchildren. I don't know whether or not I could even imaagine such a horror. God bless all the children and keep them safe. I think the 10 rules should be important for white boys as well as black boys.

Submitted by Terri at: August 17, 2015
These articles are so informative regarding relevant topics keeping our black boys alive and listening to their perspective about the experiences they're dealing with on a daily basis.

Submitted by PF at: July 27, 2015
In 1975 I was 15 years old and my three friends and I followed the "Get Home Safely 10 rules". But I ( a 80lb, 4'10 girl) was shot in the face by the police officer who stopped us. I have never seen so much hate and rage as I saw in this white man's eyes as he pointed his cocked gun to the head of one of the boys with me. Still feel terrorized after 40 years. Thank you Mrs. Edelman for sharing the Tamir Rice story because the media often does not give details from the victim side.

Submitted by momofablacklifethatmatters at: July 27, 2015
I am the mother of an 18 year African American young man that will be leaving for college in a few short weeks. I am at my desk, in my office in tears because this sadly is our reality. It doesn't matter class or gender, it is our job to protect our children. All of them. I am printing this article and will make it a topic of discussion as we have with so many other relevant topics and stories. I will also share it with family and friends in hopes that we are all moved to do something, anything, right now!

Submitted by moabc at: July 27, 2015
Tamir Rice did not stand a chance and countless others found themselves in the same circumstance. This is the anger that started when a black man was elected president. Until this country can admit that, things will not get better.

Submitted by SeminaryDoc at: July 27, 2015
I found your column concerning the murder of black children by the police, informative and reflecting the moral bankruptcy of police in America. The problem seems pervasive which is why I accused the whole force. It is my belief that these killings are part of the legacy of slavery and the tradition of white supremacy which rules. Black lives matter! I am the mother of two adult sons. Thank you teaching us how to get our children home alive.

Submitted by Red top at: July 25, 2015
Thank You. This article and video is a survival tactic for our black youth, It is vital information to share widely. I will pass it along to all the families I know!

Submitted by Belle P at: July 25, 2015
It is very sad that such advice is even necessary. Having worked a good many years with, and on behalf of young children, I long ago concluded that if America truly cared about its children it would find the political will to put in place effective, national, family friendly policies to help them thrive; it has not done so.........

Submitted by Patty at: July 25, 2015
How horrible that children must learn those ten things - and it still won't be enough to protect them. Our police departments must be overhauled and racists excluded. How? I don't know. Feeling pretty hopeless.

Submitted by Henry Giroux at: July 25, 2015
This is such a moving and important commentary on the war on black youth and the growing militarization and weaponization of police forces in the United States. If a society measures its commitment to democracy by how it treats its children, the United States under it current culture of cruelty and violence is failing miserably. Killing a 12 year old child is not just an act of barbarism it is a form of domestic terrorism. Thank you for this poetic and morally sensitive analysis. Broke my heart and I have been writing about this for months.

Submitted by PAJohn at: July 25, 2015
My father was a psychiatrist who was once called testify in a legal proceeding. When he returned home from the experience, he took me into the bathroom, shut the door and said, "Son, if you are ever confronted by an officer of the law, assume until proven otherwise that you are dealing with an armed psychotic. You'll live longer!" That was in Texas in the early 1950's Ms Edelman's points are well taken.

Submitted by juju at: July 25, 2015
After the Sarah Bland death this should be for all children, boys and girls.

Submitted by Nancy FC at: July 25, 2015
I encourage you to check out the two-sided palm card, YOU AND THE LAW, developed by the AKRON (OHIO)PEACE-MAKERS - a national award-winning anti-crime/ youth civic organization at; http://www.akronpeacemakers.org

Submitted by Chicago2101 at: July 24, 2015
This is how I was raised to behave in situations involving the police. I don't think it's too much to ask. All of those rules make it easier for the police to serve and protect. Why would you make their job harder by doing the opposite of these "rules"? That can only end badly.

Submitted by Weddie at: July 24, 2015
This is the hard truth. No one wants to say the words. I didn't want to say them, because I already know. It's reliving the nightmare of my childhood living in the Deep South, and 'the talk' my mother had with me and siblings, that would insure the possibility of our 'making it home' considering what we were dealing with every day of our lives! WE MUST DECLARE A CRISIS!!! THE LIVES OF BLACK CHILDREN ARE AT RISK.We are in a Police State! We MUST have THE TALK with EVERY BLACK CHILD. Every Black Church needs to have this conversation with their congregation, just as they did when I was a child. This has been so upsetting for me that I literally went into deep depression with 'the killings', knowing what this meant...reliving the nightmare of my childhood, knowing how that felt. Thank you Ms Edelman for your strength and tenacious determination to be a voice for the children in this country. Your letter has inspired me to get up and DO MORE! I'm old but I've got enough left in me to do SOMETHING, and not let my feelings dictate my ACTIONS. The CHILDREN can't change this mess. The least WE GROWN FOLK can do is at least TELL THEM what's up so they can at least GET HOME! God help us ALL..

Submitted by candy at: July 24, 2015
These are rules EVERYONE should live by when interacting with the police. These are the rules I follow and I an neither black nor a man.

Submitted by FRENCHY at: July 24, 2015
As a French citizen , I'm deeply shoked to see the police You have in the so called " land of the free " sounds more like the police of a totalitarian state in my view ! And i can garanty You that these policemen will not get away with shooting children handcuffing the sister of a dying child ! People will massivelly demondtrate and make a revolution if necessary , BUT THEY WILL NOT ACCEPT THE POLICE OF A " democracy " even if its a plutocracy , behave such a way ! HOW LONG ARE YOU PEOPLE GOING TO GIVE YOUR VOICE TO POLITICIANS TREATING YOU LIKE THIS ?

Submitted by w at: July 24, 2015
protect all children ALL children !

Submitted by Dee at: July 24, 2015
This is such critical information, but the fact that we teach it hurts my spirit. I'm running and extended day program for teens of color with Disabilities. Many times we forget to include these young people in our community education efforts. A crucial lesson in learning about independence and safety include learning how, as young men and women of color, to navigate the tricky waters of interactions with law enforcement. Wishes are not horses, we can't hope away the possibility that this is not something they have to confront. Thank you for the resource, we will be making the time to teach it to our youth.