Deborah Hearn Smith: The unfortunate unmasking of ‘brotherly love’

April 27, 2018

As a nation, we point with pride to the success of our brand of democracy. We claim to be the example of bringing together the world to live in harmony and peace. We preach our brand of pursuing happiness, personal freedom and tolerance. We even have a city that has been known as the City of Brotherly Love.

But once again the truth of our illusion has raised its head. Brotherly love has once again been unmasked to show that it depends on whom we consider our brother. Not everyone is included.

I watched with intense pain as I saw my sons (not biological) handcuffed for sitting while black. I feel a strong maternal bond with all young African-American males. I, like every mother of an African-American male, taught the rules of engagement with police officers. The real threat of driving-while-black was not a theory but a life-saving skill every young black male must learn. We then added walking-while-black to lessons to be taught. Simple things like, “Never run,” “No hands in the pocket,”—these were repeated so there was no doubt of their importance to survival.

I was born and have lived my entire life in central Indiana. My generation knew our boundaries and stayed within them. I never thought my son would have similar restrictions; however, after the third police stop in Carmel as a high school student, he knew the reality of being a black male. It was better for his high school buddies to meet him south of 96th Street.

The level of my fear is only intensified because my younger son is a deaf black male. I start every morning with a prayer for his safety.

So now, in the City of Brotherly Love, the arrest of two well-mannered young men coupled with the increasing number of young black men killed by scared police officers returns this black mother to a state of anxiety.

There was another, less-reported incident in New York that brings the plight of the black male front and center again. On the subway, a man gropes a child. Another man observes this and grabs the offender and yells at him to stop. We need more people like him who intercede to protect our children. When the police arrive, they immediately spring into action and handcuff the black man. The problem is, the black man was the protector, the white man the groper. How sad that a black man doing a good deed is assumed to be the perpetrator. Only the arrival of an officer of color changed the situation.

What baffles me is why white people of all walks of life are so fearful of any African-American male? The tragedy in both situations is that these men exemplify the best; the beautiful, God-given color of their skin is their only offense.

How many more African-American mothers will have the pain of teaching our male children that the birthright promised to every American does not include them? Equality will for them be a theory, not a reality. Innocent until proven guilty a dream.

I offer no answers, only prayers.•

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Smith is former CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. Send comments toibjedit@ibj.com.

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