By Albert Butler
I was a third grader trick-or-treating in Germantown with my mom in 1981 when she was attacked.
A would-be rapist, unable to get his way, stabbed my mother in the chest, deep enough to kill but opposite her heart. Fortunately, a group of neighbors were out that night, came to our aid, and called for help.
Philadelphia police arrived on the scene like the good guys of my favorite comic books, making sure I was safe, picking up my stepfather, and even catching the bad guy.
Enter Detective William J. Danks, then of the Northwest Detectives Division. From the moment I met him, I felt safe. I knew it was going to be OK by the way he spoke to me (and it was. My mom returned home after seven days in the hospital). He seemed larger than life, yet was affable and always put my family at ease - a combination of Paul Sorvino and Jerry Orbach of Law & Order fame. I remember laughing. A lot.
For many men of color living in inner cities, their first interaction with police is adversarial, often creating a lifetime of distrust with the people employed to protect them. It's a wonder they ever feel anything but fear, or hate, in the presence of law enforcement.
In my case, I saw every cop as Detective Danks. Not just in Philadelphia, but every police officer everywhere - at least for a time.
Although my affection and respect for him will never waver, the goodwill has not been able to compete with the brutality, cruelty, and violence I've since witnessed, repeatedly, at the hands of police.
I ask myself, are there any Detective Dankses left?
My opinion of police didn't turn on Michael Brown's death; this nation's history of policing saw to that. I was 12 years old when I watched the civil rights movement documentary Eyes on the Prize. Seeing police beat innocent people who looked just like me was difficult - and confusing.
As I grew into my teens, spending summers in New York City, I saw firsthand as police harassed black and Puerto Rican kids and young adults for no reason.
As a senior at Penn Charter, I watched the now infamous beating of Rodney King by members of the Los Angeles police department, and my dismay grew. Over my 15 years in talk radio in this city, there could have been many last straws, but the 2008 beating by 15 officers of three "shooting suspects" that a Fox29 news helicopter caught on tape stands out.
Just in the last two months, Eric Garner died in a chokehold by police; John Crawford was shot in an Ohio Walmart; Ezell Ford was killed while walking down an L.A. sidewalk. And then there's Michael Brown.
Perhaps we have reached a tipping point, a place where enough is enough. Perhaps the good guys with guns and badges will stand up and be counted, and decide they don't want to be associated with people who treat communities they should serve and protect as enemies to be controlled and subdued. Maybe the death of Brown will mean the blue wall of silence will be toppled by a blue wave of integrity.
Black lives matter. All lives matter. And it's time all the nation's police start acting like Detective Danks.
By James Braxton Peterson
My mom was a natural at raising her sons (and other people's sons), especially when it came to the nuances of giving the Talk.
The Talk, you might remember, is that awkward sit-down between parent and child to discuss the birds and the bees. But for many people - black people - there's another Talk, one that works to explain how to save your life when someone views you as a criminal, or worse, less than human. And it can delve into mortal territory depending on whether that someone has a gun and is state-sanctioned to shoot you.
Same name, but opposing directives, and generally speaking, opposing outcomes.
My mom took the innovative approach and combined the two for me in a series of discussions that centered on the fact that I was tall, young, and black.
The sex version was pretty simple and repeated often. "You're a tall, young black man; you're going to find yourself in sexual situations that will surprise you. Keep a condom handy and wear it whenever necessary."
Her focus on safety and prevention made sense at a time when STDs could surely kill you, which is probably why the Talks seemed to merge. When I left home in Newark, N.J., for boarding school in Simsbury, Conn., at the tender age of 14, she added: "You're a tall, young black man; many people will see you as a threat without knowing you or really even seeing you."
I have to admit, even in an era of AIDS hysteria and inner-city murder rates that make today's look like a cease-fire, this version of the Talk really scared me.
Knowing that some people would see me without really seeing me - if only I had read Ralph Ellison in middle school - had a chilling effect on me. The idea that I should move differently or speak differently or behave differently whenever encountering an officer seemed more frightening than walking past the crack dealers on the block. At least they knew who I was, that I was the same species.
Flash forward a couple of decades, and I now have to have these talks with my own children. Believe it or not, the "birds and bees" stuff has not been the greatest communications challenge for our family. Especially considering the fact that these days the "they-can't-see-your-humanity" talk has an elastic list of dos and don'ts:
Don't reach for your wallet, even if they ask for ID. Don't wear caps/hats; don't wear sagging pants. Don't wear a hoodie, especially at night. Don't play your music too loudly. Don't ask for help from anyone if you're ever in a car accident; don't walk down the middle of the street.
In effect, don't be young, and definitely don't be black - at least not in the ways our media-fueled stereotypes reflect blackness back at us through music, television, radio, Internet, and film.
It turns out it has been possible (if at times difficult) for my wife and me to provide my son, 15, and my daughter, 13, with the critical tools they need to confront the black stereotypes they encounter in their social and academic lives.
But the ongoing and disturbingly regular recurrence of Martins, Davises, McBrides, and Browns is another thing entirely.
There are no prophylactics for the disease of institutional racism. And there is no Talk that can assuage my children's fear of the state institutions that continue to devalue black life.
This list of dos and don'ts will be ever-unfolding unless we press for law enforcement that has the capacity to see our children - my children and yours - as the full-fledged human beings, the American citizens, that they are.
By Will Mega
My 11-year-old son, Kasai, was born on the same day as the revolutionary David Walker, who wrote the most radical antislavery manifesto in history.
"They want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us," he wrote in 1829.
I have had to ask myself more than once: Should my son ever face a police officer who thinks nothing of murdering him, what should I tell him to do?
Walker's solution called for revolt and self-defense when necessary. To my son I say the same thing - protect yourself at all costs.
If he were Michael Brown, and was facing what seemed to be an officer out to kill, I would tell him to resist. I would instruct him to run like hell, and save your life.
I know there are people who would suggest that I teach my son some magic formula that would allow him to survive an encounter with a murderer, but I don't believe there is one.
Against the backdrop of Ferguson, where citizens are experiencing a police state, the death of Brown has shed global light on the racial profiling and police brutality black children are facing every day. Nothing - not dressing differently, not being meek and compliant, and not even being right - will stamp that out.
Take the case of Askia Sabur, the West Philadelphia man who was beaten in 2010 because he wanted to wait for an order of chicken wings - rather than clear the corner, as police had asked.
I was one of the local activists whom police tried to convince that, had Sabur not resisted, he would not have sustained a broken arm and gotten six staples in his head. But a jury found Sabur not guilty in less than an hour, and years later he won a civil-rights lawsuit against police.
Let's also remember the case of former State Rep. Jewell Williams, who, in 2009, was handcuffed tightly (he later experienced nerve damage in his wrist and thumb) merely for asking two officers if everything was OK at a traffic stop. I guess it doesn't matter if you're a politician, either.
The thing is, the bloodthirsty cops that give all police officers a bad name do not kill weaponless black men because they haven't done their homework, swept their steps, or cut their grass. And rogue cops don't care whether the community in which they do their dirty work is poor or affluent. Ask Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The reason there are police who brutalize and murder unarmed black men in America is simply because their lives are looked upon as expendable.
The irony is that my son wants to be a police officer when he grows up. He wants to take after his grandfather, who was a Philadelphia police officer for almost 25 years. Perhaps he'll take my advice and aspire to be the district attorney or the U.S. attorney general, and have the courage to pursue the police who murder and beat us.
Because the truth is, my son, there is no such thing as a postracial America. Regardless of what you wear, how you speak, your level of education, and whether you follow the rules, the odds are, one day you will be faced with a police officer who violates your civil rights.
I may not always be around to protect you and you cannot trust that police will protect you, either. You have to protect yourself. I pray that God protects you in my absence.
By Philip Clark
Even if I put aside my doubts and accept what some have said about Michael Brown - that the teenager robbed a convenience store, or that he assaulted an officer or tried to take the officer's gun - this 18-year-old should not have been fatally shot.
In a confrontation between an armed police officer and a kid with no weapons, the kid should come out alive.
Because of the protesters in Missouri and across America, that message has been loud and clear and relentless - and I'm grateful for that. The incident is another stark reminder that there are people who believe that black kids are lawless or killers.
Protesting, of course, is an indispensable way to deal with these evils. But I prefer another way.
Here's how I've described it to my 10-year-old son, who is the oldest of my six children: Life is a low-down, dirty shame - but we have an ancestral imperative to confront it with our absolute personal best, every day.
In the first half of the 20th century, when black Americans began traveling by cars, they were denied service at hotels, restaurants, and service stations. I imagine some motorists were angered enough to organize protests against the discriminating and sometimes violent businesses. God bless 'em.
But Victor Green, a postal employee from Harlem, published a travel guide that was popularly known as the Green Book, which listed the businesses that did serve black motorists, demonstrating what my mentor called "an affirmative attitude in the face of the harsh actualities of existence." Essentially, he outsmarted Jim Crow.
In order to thrive in this country, I've adopted the same philosophy: Black folks are smarter, quicker, and stronger than bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination.
It's why my friends and I, when we realized in 1991 that Yale's daily newspaper had only one black writer, didn't boycott the paper, but instead started our own. It's why we also joined the effort to register thousands of black voters in New Haven, Conn., a city with a large black population but low turnout. And it's also why, instead of protesting a porous safety net, I took part in the Black Community Crusade for Children, which provided support to the best leaders and organizations serving black children and families throughout the country.
In February, during Black History Month, I will sit with our 5-, 6-, 8-, and 10-year-olds (John and Juliana, ages 2 and 3, don't sit) to watch the magisterial documentary Eyes on the Prize, about the civil rights movement during the Martin Luther King Jr. era, and the documentary The African Americans; Many Rivers to Cross, which tells the 500-year history of blacks in America.
I will point out how Rosa Parks was a veteran community organizer who carefully planned her famous act of defiance on that bus in Montgomery, Ala. I'll explain how the college students who conducted the sit-ins of the 1950s and '60s actually practiced for months how to keep their composure while being beaten, spit upon, and derided (imagine practicing that). And I'll make sure to show them how Green's approach highlighted that your response to bad things is more important than the bad things themselves.
Those are the types of ancestral stories that are valuable to me, those stories about people who are resilient by tradition - a tradition that I want to pass along to my kids.