Black parents in St. Louis — just like parents across the U.S. — have started the school year with their thoughts on the safety of their sons and the lessons they must impart about how to interact with police officers who appear to be very quick to see them as potential threats.
The Aug. 9 killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown — in addition to the Aug. 19 shooting of Kajieme Powell, 25, just a few miles away from where Brown was shot — has focused the attention of African-Americans on how Black men should conduct themselves around police. But as parents told MSNBC, it is a topic that is never far from their thoughts.
“What I told him is, you have to learn to control your anger,” Stephanie Hall, who used to cut Michael Brown’s hair, told MSNBC about what she said to her 14-year-old son, who was just starting school at Normandy High, after Brown’s death. “Everybody doesn’t understand your anger.”
But the underlying reality of such discussions is that no amount of politeness and courtesy toward the police can guarantee that your child is always going to make it back home — not when many police officers seem unable or unwilling to make any distinctions between Black boys engaged in criminal activity and those just going about their business.
“The true feeling is that you still are not free in St. Louis,” Christopher Brown Sr., a lifelong resident, told MSNBC. “That’s the truth.”
Even though Brown’s son, Christopher Jr., is described by MSNBC as a good student and a soft-spoken, polite young man who ends each sentence with a “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am,” his father knows good manners alone aren’t going to save him from being stopped by the police.
He said he talks to his son about what to wear, how to dress and about minimizing his travel with large groups.
“These are all things that unfortunately you have to teach your kid as they’re learning how to drive,” the father told MSNBC as he watched his son play football Saturday for Normandy High School, where Michael Brown had attended.
“For black males in St. Louis, there’s a culture of after a certain time of night you don’t drive into certain portions of the city,” Tef Poe, 27, said during a press conference this week with local youths. “You know for a fact that you’ll be pulled over. You also know that there’s a high chance that you will go to jail.”
African-Americans in St. Louis say the local cops have a reputation for singling out African-Americans to stop over minor violations.
“We’re guilty until proven innocent,” Poe said.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s words resonated last week when he visited the area and recounted his experiences with being racially profiled by police.
“I’m the attorney general of the United States, but I’m also a black man,” the nation’s top lawyer said in a press conference. “I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”