Last night, after it was a foregone conclusion that Troy Davis, a man accused of shooting a cop in 1989, would be put to death, I went upstairs and stared at my 4-year-old son. He was in his footie pajamas with the puppies all over him and he was splayed sideways on his Buzz Lightyear bed shaped like a rocket ship. The Toy Story blanket was wrapped lazily around his body. Like me, he’s a bit of a wild sleeper. I had the urge to wake him, to gather him in my arms and just hold him. I realized that I might not hug him enough. He’s gotten too big for my lap and he’d rather play on the computer or practice the karate moves he’s learned from one cartoon or the other. Somehow I felt that if I hugged him more, he might one day avoid situations that would place him at the wrong place at the wrong time. I know it’s not that simple. I know that if injustice is going to find you, it’s going to find you, but last night, watching his chest rise and fall in sleep, I had to hold on to something.
I don’t know what I would say to my son. At 4, he already has a highly developed sense of right and wrong. I dread the day when he learns that things aren’t that simple but it is my job to keep him innocent and his logic simple for as long as necessary. Many Black parents feel they need to arm their children, especially their boys, as soon as possible. No sudden moves. Respect the officer. Keep your hands on the steering wheel so they can see your movements. Announce every action. They teach them this early and they go from being children to adults who fear the world or wish to confront it at any cost. The truth is, we live in a country that shoots brown boys for being. The reasons change. The circumstances change but at the end of the day, they’re killing brown boys for being.
I don’t think the answer is instilling fear in our children. I think the answer is taking action before a case like Troy Davis’ pops up. I will do everything I can to be active and not reactive. What will I tell my son about justice? I will tell him that despite what the world thinks and wishes for us to believe, at the end of the day, believe in the greater good. This world is not wicked though people may act in wicked ways. Be careful. Be vigilante. Be wise. Be brave. Be kind. Be compassionate.
Troy Davis pens letter before execution