The Rules (Father Edition)

 Police-Badge

 

 

Rules are made to be broken into chaotic pieces of anarchy.

 

A father and his 10 year old son sit on the couch in their living room and watch the rioting in Ferguson Missouri. The city is on fire with rage and stores are being looted and burned to the bare bones.

 

The son is staring at his father intensely.

 

Father

What is it, Son? You seem to have a question on your mind.

 

The Son looks down at his feet.

 

Son

Dad, I really don’t understand why our town looks like this. I see people on the t.v burning stores and cars. I see people stealing stuff from stores you and I were in a few days ago.

 

The father casts his eyes down and shakes his head from side to side wearily

 

Son

What’s wrong, Dad? I can tell you’re upset about this too.

 

He looks up at his son with water standing in his eyes

Father

Yes, Son (His voice is a bit shaky off balance) I’m upset. It’s hard for me to watch our city be destroyed and torn apart. I have lived here all my life and I want to raise you here, but I just don’t know.

 

 

Son

I understand, Dad. You’ve told me how you would like to stay here, but part of me wish we would just leave.

 

He places a hand on his only son’s shoulder and looks his little guy square in the eyes.

 

Father

 

We cannot run from this situation. We must stay and help our town deal with its growing frustration about the police and their actions.

 

He looks at his Father with eyes that scream a lack of understanding

 

Father

Do you understand?

 

Son

 

(He shakes his head from side to side) No Dad, not really? The word frustration is a word I understand a little bit. But I have questions about the police and why they shot and killed that kid.

Father

 

Frustration can lead to anger sometimes and the anger we’re witnessing on the streets is aimed at the police for killing an unarmed young man.

The son puts his hand under his chin, shifts on the sofa cushion, and looks at his dad. His face is wrinkled and thoughtful.

 

 

 

 

Son

But Dad, the police shouldn’t do things like that. Shooting people without guns or other weapons isn’t right… The State Trooper that comes to my school said he keeps the city safe and only uses his gun when the bad guys have guns. Why would the police shoot a person with no gun? And how can frustration lead to anger like what I see on t.v?

 

The father has a look of contemplation on his face as he thinks about these heavy questions.

 

Father

Let me tell you something little man. Anger and frustration go hand in hand. We sometimes let our frustration lead us to anger.

 

Son

Dad (He hesitates a bit) I don’t understand how frustration and anger has caused our town to look like that. (He points at the t.v)

 

Father

 

(He turns to his son and looks him square in the eyes) Son, do you remember how you pushed your friend down at school when you were in the 1st grade?

 

Son

 

Yes, I do.

 

Father

 

Why did you do that?

 

 

He closes his eyes as he thinks about what happened that day.

 

Son

 

He took my pencil during handwriting class. We were friends and I didn’t think he would do that to me. When I asked him for it he called me a bad name, so I pushed him.

 

Father

 

Do you think you were frustrated, son?

 

He exhibits the same thoughtful expression as he contemplates his father’s question

 

Son

Dad, you know I was done with him bullying me that day and I was tired of it. If that’s what frustration is then, yes I was.

 

Father

 

There ya go. That frustration turned to anger and when that happened you pushed down the kid at school.

 

Son

 

So the people in our town are angry and frustrated about the police and that’s why they are destroying things? But Dad are there good people in Ferguson?

 

 

 

Father

 

 

(He taps his chin and shifts in his seat) Yes, we have many very good people in our city, but sometimes frustration and anger changes people and causes them to do things they usually wouldn’t do. Just like under normal circumstances you wouldn’t have pushed down the boy at school, right?

 

He looks at his father

 

 

Son

 

Right, but dad, I still just don’t get why the policeman had to shoot him when he didn’t have a gun.

 

The father thinks about his next move in this conversation. What should he say? This is a tough subject to address with a 10 year old, but it was necessary.

 

Father

 

Son, (He hesitates, the words become caught in his throat), sometimes a horrible word, a word that’s a disease, leads people to treat others with disrespect and fear.

 

His son’s eyes widen to the point they resemble a light house looking for ships in a dense fog.

 

Son

 

What word, is that dad?

 

 

 

 

Father

 

Racism, it’s a cancer on the human race son. It leads people to hurt others due to fear or hatred.  Sometimes in America we as black males are considered to be even more of a threat because of this word.

 

He stares at his father with a gaze filled with fire.

 

Son

 

Why are black males considered even more threatening?

 

Father

 

Son that is a hard question. I can only say because of racism and stereotypes……… (The son cuts him off)

 

 

Son

 

What does stereotype mean?

 

Father

 

Well, son, it’s simply when others have ideas about people that are not true. An example would be if I thought all women really hated men. Now that is a bit out there, but that’s basically what it is. Do you understand, son?

 

 

 

 

Son

 

Yes, think so. If I was to say that all whites didn’t like black people, that would be a stereotype? Right?

 

 

He look at his son and thinks he is such a smart boy

 

 

Father

 

Yes, son that’s correct. I knew you would get it. You see son we, as black males, are stereotyped into being more aggressive or usually involved in criminal activity. Is this true? No. But some believe it and in some cases the ones whom believe it are in powerful positions.

 

He stops his father by raising his hand

 

Son

 

Like police huh, dad?

 

 

Dang this boy is smart the father thinks

 

 

 

 

Father

 

 

Yes, son exactly and that’s why I must educate you about the police and my encounters with them. You see son you must be careful when dealing with law enforcement. All police are not bad. There are officers that take their duty seriously and treat all fairly within the law, but there are some that harbor stereotypes and ideas about African Americans, which can turn deadly in the flash of a muzzle. Do you understand?

 

The son looks at his father and nods his head  in agreement.

 

Father

You were not even a spot in in your old man’s eye when this happened to me several years ago. I was attending Lincoln University in Jefferson Missouri and was on my way to my job at the local mall when a cop pulled me over. As he approached the car, I kept my hands on the steering wheel and looked straight ahead. He tapped on the window with his knuckles and told me to roll my window down. I looked him straight in the eye and asked is there a problem officer. He looked at me with a scowl that raised my suspicion he may have intentions of messing with me. He stated you failed to signal. I said sir I am sorry. I need to see your registration and insurance. I didn’t move. He said didn’t you hear me!? I said yes I did, but I want you to be aware that I am going in the glove box to get the papers you requested. (His son interjects)

 

Son

 

Why did you tell the officer the location of your papers? He asked for them?

 

Father

 

Son you remember what I said about stereotypes?

 

Son

 

Yes, dad.

 

 

 

 

Father

 

Because of the stereotypes I explained to you I will not make any sudden moves. The very color of my skin and my gender may have set off suspicion in this officer immediately, so I must carefully reach for my information in the glove box. I cannot take chances. There is a deep historic distrust between police and African Americans which leads me not to trust him either.

 

Son

 

What do you mean by a historic distrust?

 

Father

 

Son, in the past especially in the South, the police have beaten and lynched our people. They would use the badge as a means to arrive in the dark of the evening to come and pick up a man or a woman to lynch for something as small as looking a white man in the eye.

shock at what his father just told him causes him to gasp for air

Son

 

What?! That is horrible, Dad.

 

Father

 

Yes son it is and it’s for those reasons I hope you learn something from this encounter I had with the police. The officer eyed me with suspicion the whole time he looked over my paper work. He kept checking the backseat with his flashlight. He even asked me what was in the bag, I told him books because I was a student at the local university. He just kinda huffed it off like it was stupid for me to go to school.  I just ignored his attitude. During the entire event I never took my eyes from his. He asked me why I was looking at him. I said I am just waiting on my papers and possible ticket sir. My hands stayed on the steering wheel, Son. You cannot make any sudden moves with the police because that can lead to a nervous and racist officer pulling his gun and shooting you. If he would have asked me to get out of the car, I would have done as he said and just stood there. We as African American men or just African Americans period cannot afford to take risks with the police.

 

Son

 

And dad, uh (He hesitates a bit) that is because of our history, right?

 

The father looks at his son proudly

 

Father

 

Yes it is, son.As I said before the distrust between African Americans and police spans decades of horrible treatment at the hands of law enforcement. He finally shoved my paper work at me, grumbled good night, and was gone. He expected me to act a certain way so he could have an excuse to arrest me or even possibly hurt me. Why didn’t he have a reason to harass me, son?

 

Son

 

The things you did made you look less threatening

 

Big word for a 10 year old he thought but the boy was smart

 

Father

What exactly did I do? Give me a list of what I did to make myself less of a threat.

 

The son places his two hands on his head and begins to think

 

 

 

 

Son

You kept your hand on the steering wheel

Told the officer exactly what you were about to do

You looked the officer in the eyes

You watched the officer closely

If asked to leave the car, do as told and never run

Answer all questions

Be polite

 

The father is smiling with a grin as big as the moon

 

Father

 

Yes son those are the rules you need to follow whenever you come in contact with an officer. As I said all officers are not racist or harbor stereotypes but these few rules will give a greater chance of  making it home alive when dealing with the police.

 

Son

 

It’s awful that we must have this conversation, dad.

 

 

 

 

 

Father

 

Yes it is. Remember that the color of your skin and your gender sometimes causes people to look at you differently. The swagger in your step is seen more threatening than confident. Unfortunately America has laid 400 years of stereotypes at your feet son and you must live with that reality until our country is free of racism. Do you get it son? The importance of what I have taught you today.

 

 

Son

 

Yes dad, I do understand. I must follow these rules when I encounter the police. Dad, thanks for taking the time to teach me. I don’t know what I would do without you.

 

Father

 

You are my only son and I must protect you. We live in a cold and unusually cruel world and I would not be a good father if I did not give you the tools to survive. I love you son

 

Son

 

I love you to dad, hey let’s see what on T.V land. Might be some old Sanford and Son episodes on.

 

Father

 

All right you big dummy.

 

 

They both laugh at the joke and settle in to watch old t.v shows and enjoy being father and son.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Rules: A Play About Police and African Americans

  1. Unfortunately, this is the conversation we have to have with our sons and daughters. I have a daughter, and I would love to have a little boy one day soon, but I have to be honest and say, having one frightens me. I fear for his future safety. Not just as an adult, we have to fear for the lives of our teenage boys; even little kids can be looked on with suspicion. I feel for those who have lost their children; their sons and daughters. I couldn’t bear it. Thank you for posting this exchange, maybe it will give those on the outside looking in an understanding of the things we must do to insure the survival of our children.

    1. Thanks Mrs.Owens for the great comment and observation. I have two sons, 5 and 17 and I fear for them in this country. I have a 12 year old daughter too. Yes it’s unfortunate that we must have this conversation to insure our children’s safety. I wrote this to give a vivid example to others who don’t need to do this to understand our pain. I hope more read it.

  2. I am speechless… only now am I beginning to understand that “white privilege” could more appropriately be described as a privileged ignorance that errs by a fundamental misunderstanding of unspoken racial favoritism …that, by design, caters to the ignorant. Is it possible to unlearn this ignorance? How do I reject this unclean “privilege” when it, withough knowing it has been thrust upon me?

    1. Great insight, George. Yes it is a social construct built upon a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. I don’t blame Whites. What I do blame is a refusal by some to admit it exists. Acknowledgement does not make you racist but just willing to help make sure these biases are recognized and then dealt with. We all hold biases the idea is to acknowledge them, deal with them, and attempt to leave them out of how we view another human being.

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