Why Can’t Black Kids Act Their Age?

Like many of us, I was very disturbed upon hearing the story of a young Black father that was terrorized after his 4-year old daughter took a doll from the store without paying for it.  In fact, the entire family of four was traumatized during their encounter with police following this incident.  Apparently, the family left the store, traveled to an apartment complex with their two children. Without warning (i.e., sirens, etc.), policemen allegedly approached their vehicle, banging on it and threatening to shoot them.  At some point, the father exited the vehicle and was grabbed by police officers who wrestled to get his hands behind his back while yelling at him, and kicking him. Additional officers proceeded to the passenger side of the vehicle to tell them mother and young children to leave the vehicle.  It should be noted the young mother was 5 months pregnant.  There was lots of yelling, even yanking at the toddler that was in the mother’s arms. Thankfully, bystanders pleaded with officers to allow them to take the children and remove from the horrifying scene.  It is not clear who witnessed the child taking the doll and how the police were contacted.  Further, one news account indicated the parents were also suspected of stealing an item(s) though I have not seen any reports backing that up or detailing any charges to that effect, against the parents.   

[Subsequent to the original publication of this post, surveillance footage was released that appears to show the father stealing a package of underwear but that fact had not been confirmed with certainty at the time of apprehension.]

Now, I get to the reason for my question – why can’t black and brown children act their age? The ‘adultification’ of black children is a well-researched and documented hazard of growing up black in America.  Our children are very often robbed of their innocence and held to society’s standards of behavior far beyond their chronological age.  Come on – this child is 4 years old!!  While stealing is not appropriate, her behavior was well within the range of what you could expect for a child her age.  Her logic was: “I see it, I like it, I’ll take it!”  I certainly am not advocating that we allow children to steal, even little children.  However, I don’t understand why this mistake couldn’t have been met with more rational thought, and indeed, respect.  This was a missed opportunity for that child to learn a valuable lesson about making a mistake and making things right.  The act of facing the store owner, apologizing and returning that doll would have been a powerful life lesson for that child.  The parents were not given the chance to help this child make things right.  

The parents said they did not know the child had taken the doll.  Even as police were following up on the call, one would think this could have been handled as a traffic stop.  They could have advised the couple of the suspicions and asked to search the car. When it was discovered that a 4-year old child took a doll, one would hope cooler heads would have prevailed and this situation would have been handled differently.  Instead, the children in this family experienced the following:

  1. The head of their family being made powerless to handle a teachable family situation.
  2. An early lesson that “Officer Friendly” is a folk hero! 
  3. A painful wakeup call — They won’t get the benefit of the doubt other kids get when they make mistakes. And unlike their non-black peers, their mistakes can have grave consequences for their family.
  4. A seed planted in their young minds that Black Lives Don’tMatter; a seed that will likely flourish because they can’t un-seewhat they witnessed that day.  

Even if this family ‘wins’ the lawsuit they recently filed against the department, their young children have lost so much more.    

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