This morning, while the sky was still dark and I had not yet completed my first cup of coffee, I drove my youngest son to school. My youngest son is taller than me… he reached this goal early last summer. Daily he would measure himself against me, declaring himself taller until the day it was actually true, the day I could no longer deny that by now they all have passed me. His voice has deepened and his voice is not as often mistaken for mine on the phone. He is still a boy, though, his cheeks still smooth, his eyes still bright. Heck, he still has braces and the gangly gait of an adolescent.
This morning I drove him to school in the predawn darkness, the quiet of a day yet lived. Still full of possibility. Still full of the unknown. Still full of promise.
We were listening to the radio. To my station, not his. I still get to be the boss, no matter that I am now the shortest person in the house. Old school r & b I can handle at 7 a.m. Hip hop, less so.
On the radio there is an interview with the attorney for the family of Robbie Tolan. I had heard the story about Tolan and what happened to him in the early hours of New Year’s Eve several days before. As a fellow human being, I was horrified. As the mother of black sons, I was frightened. This morning, driving the car with my sleepy son next to me, I was grieving.
Robbie Tolan is a 23 year old star baseball player, playing in the minor leagues in 2007. He is African American. At 2:30 in the morning of December 31, he was sitting in front of his home in suburban Houston, Texas with his cousin. They had driven in a few moments earlier. A police car followed them, but did not park behind them. As Robbie and his cousin walked up to there home, bright lights blinded them… the police officer had a flashlight and a gun on them, and accused them of driving a stolen car, and told them to get down on the ground. As the young men explained this was their car, eventually the commotion caused Tolan’s parents to come to the door. Imagine seeing your son and nephew with a gun trained on them in your own driveway. Wait – excuse me – imagine seeing your black son and nephew in your own driveway ….
This mother’s son called out. According to the family, she was shoved away. Imagine seeing your mother shoved out of the way by someone holding a gun. Tolan called out … because he was witnessing this. He wanted it to stop. He was shot in the chest. The bullet is lodged in his liver.
He and his cousin were unarmed. They were driving their own car. They were walking up their own driveway.
I was driving my son to school this morning. I should be able to tell my child if you mind your own business, if you do the right thing, things will work out well for you. If you keep your nose clean. I should be able to tell my child that. I should be able to keep him safe. I should be able to send him out into the world every day, believing that no intentional harm will come to him.
I know better.