I left the store and headed to my bright red car. About ten feet away, I tapped the silver button on my key fob to open the door. Humm, it didn’t open.
So, I put my bag on the ground and pushed the key into the door to open it manually. Again, nothing.
Befuddled, when I looked away thinking about my options, (AAA, calling wife) I noticed a red car, same color as mine, parked next to me.
I turned back and peered into the window of the car I couldn’t open and, oh shucks, its contents indicated that it was not my car. Shocked by what just happened – or could have happened – I unlocked and retreated to my car, climbed into the front seat, wiped away the sweat and tried to process what just happened…. and, considering the world we live in today, the tragic consequences of what could have happened.
As I sat there breathing heavily, images in my mind of friends and loved ones parading past my open coffin, the result of what could have happened, was unnerving. I snapped out of that daymare and got the heck out of that parking lot.
Let’s look at my experience against news that took place over a recent span of six days.
First, when Ralph Yarl rang the doorbell of Andrew Lester’s Kansas City, Mo., home by mistake, the 84-year-old White man was “scared to death,” he told police. No words were exchanged, Lester told police, before he lifted his .32-caliber revolver and shot through a glass door at Yarl, hitting him in the head and arm. Although Yarl, who is 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, Lester said the teenager was a “Black male approximately 6 feet tall,” and that he was scared to death due to the male’s size. Two days later in upstate New York, a group of friends pulled into the wrong driveway. The homeowner came out and shot at them killing one, a 20-year-old girl.
Three days later a cheerleader in Texas got into the wrong car and got out, but the man in the car got out and shot her. Soon after, a Walgreens employee opened fire in the parking lot on two women suspected of shoplifting. And when a little girl’s basketball in North Carolina ended up in a neighbor’s yard, that neighbor came out and shot both her and her father.
Now what’s petrifying about all this is the unsettling reality that by the time the ink is dry on this piece, more similar shootings will happen. So the question we’re left with – Black parents in particular – how do you hold back the outrage and tell your Black kid what they must do just to survive in public these days?
Now does a lot of this have to do with race? Of course it does. In all cases, no. In far too many cases, emphatically yes. There’s no denying that a person’s physical characteristics, skin color chief among them, are often the cause of “scared to death” knee jerk reactions.
Research confirms, for example, that people who were asked to judge the size of Black people tended to see Black men as bigger and stronger than they actually were and gave Black children the attributes of adults. Need evidence? Well look no further than some recent high profiles that garnered headlines.
When a police officer shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association defended the officer describing Rice as “a 12-year-old in an adult body.” And former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014, likened the struggle inside his vehicle that preceded the deadly shooting to “a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Need I go on?
Back to the shooting in Kansas City, that city’s African American mayor, Quinton Lucas, said that since Yarl’s shooting, he’s questioned whether he would be in danger if he rang the doorbell at the wrong home at night. This, mind you, from the mouth of the mayor of a city with a population of a half million people.
“Before last Thursday, I don’t know if there’s a parent in America who would advise their child, White or Black, not to ring the doorbell,” Lucas said. “People need to reassess their biases and fears and recognize that Black people are not villains, that Black kids are not a threat,” he said. “There was no reason to fear this boy.”
Now this – brace yourself – said by Lester’s neighbors, the ones who refused to open their homes to a severely wounded Ralph Yarl, about Lester:
“He is a kind veteran.”
“Race did not play a part in this.”
“He was just scared.”
So, where do we go from here America?
On my side of the answer, I plan to heed the advice from several Black parents:
Said one, never do a U turn into an unfamiliar driveway. Rather, drive to the nearest parking lot even if that means taking more time to course correct.
Said another, let young ones, boys in particular, know that the way they dress, and their voice tones can evoke strong negative reactions as do braids, tattoos, dreadlocks, and even facial expressions.
Said another, instruct them to use their GPS in advance to familiarize themselves with the picture of the place they’re going to and call the place in advance to confirm the address.
Back to my red car dilemma, perhaps I luckily “dodged a bullet” (pun intended) and should be grateful that some panicky “Lester” did not see me, five feet, ten inches tall and 185-pound soaking wet, as a hulking 6-foot 5-inch, 250-pound Black dude bent on emptying his wallet, stealing his Bud-Lite, or administering him some serious body damage.
For heaven’s sake America, the home of the free and land of the brave, who would have thought that a human mistake nowadays could earn you a trip to the local morgue! © Terry Howard is an award-winning speaker, writer, and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.