A few weeks ago,
my four-year-old daughter stood behind as my eyes swelled up with tears staring
into my phone. “Mommy, what are you watching?” She asked. I explained to her
that it was a video of some of the Black people who had been killed by police
officers over the years. Her expression of sadness quickly turned into a look
of shock and complete disbelief. "Mommy!" she said, "that's a
little kid!" She was looking at the photo of Tamir Rice. "And that's
just a little girl!" she said, pointing at Aiyana Stanley-Jones. "Why
would the police kill little kids?" She exclaimed. My head spun in confusion as I tried to
gather my thoughts to come up with a way to answer her question in a truthful
manner, but not completely terrify her. In the past, we had similar
conversations. I had already explained to her the meaning of the Black Lives
Matter movement, police brutality, the George Floyd murder, and general racism.
But I had never explained to her that children were not exempt from this
violence. The look of horror in her eyes was enough for me to know that this
was not the moment to tell her the complete truth. "I don't know, baby,"
I said as I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big squeeze and told her
to go watch TV in the living room. She said okay and walked away, but I knew
that this conversation was far from over.
 I knew that at some point I would have to tell her the whole truth; that there are people (including police officers) who fear, hate, and even wish death upon Black people simply because we are Black. And this racism is not just limited towards Black men, Black women, Black boys, or Black girls, but includes everyone under the African Diaspora. It does not matter how we dress, look, or act because the color of our skin had already made us targets from the moment we were born; all cute little Black boys and girls will be seen as angry, violent, scary criminals in the eyes of the American society. I dread the fact that one day I will have to tell my baby girl that Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, or George Floyd, could be any of us one day.
 Later that day, I realized that she had already begun to piece some of this information together on her own. "Mama, if the police tries to kill Jaidyn (her cousin) I will save him." I wanted so badly to tell her that she did not have anything to worry about, because that would not happen to Jaidyn. We all like to think that the stories that we view on the news everyday could not be us. But I cannot deny the fact that at many times throughout my childhood there were moments that I was very close to becoming one of those headlines that we see daily, those headlines to which we have become so desensitized. There were times the police barged onto playgrounds in my neighborhood with guns drawn. There was the night, when I was only ten years old, that we were forced to stand outside in our pajamas in the cold with assault rifles aimed in our direction while police searched our house. There were countless times where I and my friends could have easily become casualties in the war against our existence.
 While I know that not all police officers are bad people, I know that they are all operating out of a bad and broken system. Unfortunately, we are not afforded the luxury of taking the risk of running into the wrong police officer on the wrong day. So, as a child we were taught (both directly and indirectly) to fear the police. We knew that if we were in a crowd and someone yelled out "5 O" that it was our job to run and get as far away as fast possible. And if the police stopped us and asked us any questions, we could not speak to them under any circumstances. Whether or not we had committed any crimes was not important. We just knew that the police were not our friends. If we wanted to stay alive or out of jail, we had to avoid them at all cost. We feared the police, and as I grew older that fear turned into hate. When I was a teenager, a Milwaukee Police Officer looked me in my eyes and told me that it was not his job to protect me. At that moment, the truth about everything that was taught to me about the police throughout the years was clear; we were all alone, and it was up to us to protect ourselves.
 This is a reality that is unique to the Black experience, but it is nothing new. As a mother, I feel as if it is my duty to make my child feel safe. And knowing that I cannot promise my daughter the safety that all children should have, absolutely breaks my heart. And at times I feel guilty that I am not able to do so due to circumstances that are outside of my control. While I would love to tell my daughter that she has nothing to worry about, and that Mommy will protect her and keep her safe, I cannot bring myself to lie to her in such a crucial way. The truth of the matter is, that while my daughter may be too young to fully grasp the complexities of racism and police brutality, she is not too young to suffer the ramifications of their existence in our society. As hard as it is, I try to tell my daughter as much truth as possible in order to protect her, and to prevent her from becoming one of those dreaded headlines. While I love the idea of my child being able to have a safe, and carefree childhood, that is just not a possibility for Black children living in the United States and has never been. It is not until we work to dismantle all of the systems that are impacted by the lasting effects of racism that we will be able to end the perpetual cycle of trauma forced upon innocent children, and truly save our children.
Elisha Branch graduated from Mount Mary University with a BA, majoring in Spanish with a Philosophy minor. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her daughter Daisy, attends Hephatha Lutheran Church and is currently working as a Community Organizer.
© October/November 2020
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 20, Issue 6