For a time, I could not fathom the fears and worries that mothers of young Black sons shoulder. Mothering a daughter, I could not imagine the immense terror one may feel each time another Black boy is murdered by the very element who is supposed to “protect and serve” them.
The mothers of Black boys have always had the most difficult of parenting jobs in that there always exists an inherent fear that someone will view their child as less than human and less deserving of the ability to not only grow up, but to grow into adulthood. From Emmett Till to Tamir Rice, Black mothers have been shouldering this fear for too long. I began to feel this same fear last summer, then again in the fall when I saw on the news black girls being manhandled by police officers. It then it became all too clear—no Black child is safe from harm in a nation where they are targeted by racism.
Now that it is clear the law doesn’t intend to prosecute the people who kill our children, as we saw with Tamir Rice, we need to get active and change the laws as they are applied to our children and those who harm them. Following the shooting at Sandy Hook, where 20 school children were murdered in their classroom, mothers in that community banded together and began working to change gun control laws.
They built a national coalition and a strong lobby that brought the issue to the forefront. They were able to change state laws regarding gun control. While they weren’t successful in getting a federal law passed, they at least got it brought to a vote and were engaged in a national discussion on guns in our society. They accomplished the most important thing, which was capturing the eyes and ears of the nation, specifically the President who, in an address, made the bold statement that gun laws in this country must change.
As Black mothers, we need to coalesce the way the parents of Newtown did and turn this into a national movement. President Obama has exactly 12 months and some days left in office, and those who are running to fill his position are ignoring the issue. We need someone to state publicly that our children matter as well and strides need to be taken in order to ensure their safety. However, it is not just enough for the movement to change the laws. When it comes to black children, we also have to change they minds of people who still refuse to see them as such.
While Black Lives Matter is inclusive of our children’s lives, we also need a movement that is specifically aimed at protecting our children, exclusively. Much like the civil rights movement was sparked by the murder of a child, Emmett Till, and the first laws passed during that movement were about children, namely Brown v. Board of Education. We truly need a national effort to organize for our kids and to humanize them, but also push for laws to protect them.
This failure to prosecute the murderer of Tamir Rice needs to be our moment of reckoning. Somehow we, as mothers, must send the message that just because we may have 12 year-old boys who are taller and huskier than some grown white men doesn’t negate the fact that they are 12, still children and that we love them. We must let them know that for anyone to kill or harm our children is the same as with harming any other child and recognize that to do so constitutes abuse.
The laws regarding child abuse are fairly clear, they are often used to justify breaking up Black families and separating children from their parents, particularly those whose only “crime” is in being poor. Since we can’t depend on the law to protect or provide justice for our kids the way it stands now, then we have to change it or allow existing laws to be applied in a manner that protects our children. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g), as amended in 2010, defines child abuse and neglect as, at: “an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” This is generally applied to parents or caregivers, however, anyone whose action towards a child “presents an imminent risk of serious harm” should be able to be prosecuted for child abuse, and that includes police officers.
In the Tamir Rice case, the failure to call for medical assistance immediately would constitute child abuse. The same way murder laws were amended to allow a federal prosecutor to pursue hate crime charges in addition to murder when warranted, the government should intervene and at bear minimum charge those who murder and harm our children with child abuse.
While it may be a lesser charge than murder, charging someone with child abuse when a minor is the victim, still allows for justice to prevail in some form or fashion. This would need to be monitored by the federal government to prevent states from misusing and/or gerrymandering how it is applied. As it stands now, the federal law regarding child abuse is just a “guide” for states in terms of defining child abuse, whether or not it is applied is solely left to the states. Still, the definition is crystal clear and applicable to case like the Tamir Rice killing.
While it seems naive to think that the laws will ever protect us when they have been designed to incriminate us from the beginning, it is foolish not to try. We have had Million Man Marches, Million Mothers Marches, and now we need to really focus on our children. We have to touch the consciousness of all those who speak endlessly about children and their protection because it seems that their advocacy for children ends when the child in question is Black.
That is the utmost in hypocrisy and we need to call then out on that contradiction. We need to show up and show out because we love our children, too. We need to tell them to “stop killing and harming our kids,” and we need to press upon our leaders to not only speak these words, but to push for the punishment of those who do. If they cannot influence whether or not murder charges are brought forth, then they can at least advocate for the application of child abuse charges based on the very definition provided by the federal government, itself.
At the present time, our country is failing Black children. Our children deserve to live and thrive. We can’t wait any longer and expect that there will ever be one murder too many before the government will act— just look at how many mass shootings there have been since Sandy Hook. Enough will never be enough for those who do not have our kid’s interests in mind. That is why as Black mothers we have to do all we can to protect our children.
For us, Tamir Rice’s murder has to be the tipping point where we say “enough is enough” and take up the arms of protest for our children. We gave them life and we owe it to them to ensure that they are able to live it.