There are some white folks, who just don’t need to be in law enforcement, end of story. Certainly, I could grandly discuss the high profile cases of white police officers punching out black women. I could easily lament about how a white police officer was given a slap on the wrist for shooting a black male in the back. But, for me, I think I have discovered the nexus, the real embryonic stem cell of bad policing: the age requirement. Maybe it’s me because I am turning 40 and I am now beginning to see a new 20 something generation. Maybe I am too close to race. I don’t know why, but today, this evening, my son and I had to really deal with the issue of white supremacy and law enforcement, and mind you, he is only three years old.
After successfully completing my parenting classes, a critical lesson I learned was this: “when you can and cannot leave a child unattended.” In the state of North Carolina, you never leave a child under the age of 5 unattended, period. In fact, in my parenting class, I was there with one gentleman who made this crucial mistake. He received a citation, was introduced, (using the word loosely) to child protective services and was forced into a round of child parenting classes. This was all due to the fact that he made the decision to leave his child for a split second at the gas station to pay for some gas. Many folks wouldn’t consider that as child endangerment; however, with the many car-jackers, child predators and other nut jobs out here, it is better to err on the side of caution. Having said that, my son and I, unfortunately were out late due to an unexpected chain of events. One of my wife’s colleagues passed unexpectedly and she had our child with her. The hour was late, and of course, being a new graduate of parenting classes, I had my objections to our son being out past 8:30 PM. But life happens and so being, a tired yet good co-parent, I complied. On to where my son and I meet the police: driving to the gas station, I was tired. I simply did not want to get out of the truck, undo the five-point harness and take my three-year-old son out of the truck, into the gas station putting him back into the five point harness at night. In Fantasy Island, there would be a fully functioning full service gas station with people pumping gas at night. I pull up, I pay, and they pump.
Recognizing the fatigue setting in, I ask one of the nearby officers, sitting in their cars at the gas station to assist me; after all, police officers represent public servants. I ask the younger officer, “Could you please help me, I’ve got my three year old son in the car and I would like to get some gas, would you mind watching him while I go pay for it?” His response was, “Why can’t you take him with you?” It’s a fair question and I explain my points. One, he’s in a five point harness, two, its night time, and I don’t want my toddler going in the gas station at night, three, I can’t leave my son unattended. His flippant response really got under my nerve, “I’m not a baby sitter sir.”
I am asking myself, is it me, is it the color of my skin, did he have a bad day, what was it that pricked him so, to make him act like such? Gratefully another officer came by, looked to make sure I had a child, and was more understanding about my situation. He allowed me to park my car at pump six, go pay for the gas while he did not what just a police officer would do, but what a fellow citizen should do, help your fellow citizen and for the record, he too was white.
I was thoroughly annoyed on multiple levels. The first was obvious, paternalistically: As a parent, I am thinking societal accommodations should be made to assist parents with children in tow. Granted, being out at night past 8:30 was not what I planned for, but don’t penalize me for it either. An easy solution would be to have someone on duty to pump gas for me. This accommodation is made for those who are physically challenged; why not offer assistance for parents. Second, this officer’s behavior unequivocally represents the negative stereotype of police officers. To me, he was a young gun with something to prove. After my interaction with him, I felt as though I owed him an apology because I was not his crime victim, or his suspect. Please forgive me as I am just a citizen who happens to be under his watch. However, because we failed to represent the unruly element of society; from my perception, apparently, my son nor I weren’t worth his time. Now here is where the scenario gets tricky: had I been the uninformed parent, running into the quick mart, paying for my gas, I could easily have been this officer’s citation for the night, thrust into the department of social services, fodder for child protective services. His attitude linked to his body language, suggested to me that my request was beneath him to protect us. At the risk of being repetitive, my race is my reality. Would this officer, no more than 25 years old, (emotional age of 18) treat me so flippantly, so cavalierly, were I white? I thought one of the prime directives of the police – regardless of color was to protect the public. Is a three-year-old little boy not worth protection?