Donna F. Edwards, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District in the House. She is a candidate for the 2016 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.
The first time, he was barely in middle school and just starting to venture out on his own after school.
“Jared, if a police officer stops you, always make sure they can see your hands, don’t reach for anything, and please do not mouth off — you can do that when you get home safely.” Like most black mothers I know, I have had “the conversation” with my son, not once but many times over many years. Whether our sons are 15 or 25, we worry.
I’ve always told my son that most police officers are good people who protect our communities and risk their lives for our safety. And yet, as black mothers, we know our sons’ vulnerability is measured by the exceptions that feel like the rule. This must change. Today, far too many black people believe the police stand against them, and far too many police officers look the other way or deny the existence of any problem at all. It’s time for good police officers to stand with good citizens to change the culture.
As we sadly watched events unfold in Baltimore, I couldn’t help but imagine how many times Gloria Darden, the mother of Freddie Gray, had “the conversation.” We saw her, so strong and consumed by her grief, declare that she wants justice for her son — but not “like this.” Throughout Baltimore and other cities, black mothers have been voices of calm. They’ve asked for justice, for accountability, for reflection and for peace. Black mothers are pleading for a sustained conversation to solve the problems of our communities so that no other mother has to bury her son. But, sadly, their voices are being drowned out.
The situation in Baltimore is a poignant reminder of the truths too many black mothers face every day. Our nation cannot move forward without a true national conversation that involves race, jobs, economic inequality and a respect for human dignity, especially in policing. Unfortunately, our attention is drawn to unacceptable police practices only when they’re captured on video or an incident is too sickening to ignore. Meanwhile, on our streets, young black men and women bear the psychological, emotional and economic scars created when the most ordinary activity is suspect. The voices of African American women belong at the decision-making table to fix the long-standing problems in our schools and communities that contribute to despair and hopelessness among our children. Our voices make the conversation real and our communities stronger.
I’ve been moved by the peaceful protests in Baltimore and other cities, and I’ve also been disgusted by the looting we’ve seen in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. I’ve prayed for Gray’s family and for the officers injured in this week’s senseless violence. I understand the frustration of the black community, I believe police brutality is unacceptable, and I know that good police officers have a role to play in solving this problem so the healing can finally begin. I’ve witnessed this in the pride and love the residents of Baltimore have shown for their city.
I’m not alone in feeling this way about what’s happening in our neighborhoods. Millions of black women (and their families) have been saying these things for years. We need to start listening.