Black parents in America have long held the burden of sitting their young black boys and girls down to have “the talk” — a conversation that while necessary, reminds them that they will be treated differently by law enforcement just because of the color of their skin.
And we found out yesterday the mayor of New York City, a white man, wasn’t exempt from that responsibility.
Following the announcement that a Staten Island grand jury would not bring charges against the officer who strangled 43-year-old Eric Garner in July, Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his appearance at the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting to address the mistakes his own police force has made in dealing with communities full of black and brown faces.
That speech included a promise to reform police practices and de Blasio’s own fear that his black son, an afro-rocking Dante de Blasio, doesn’t have the magic cloak of white privilege that he does. In so many words.
This is profoundly personal to me. I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. And I said to him, I did.
Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.
And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear.
So I’ve had to worry over the years. Chirlane’s had to worry. Is Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities—crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods—but is safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors.
That’s the reality.
It’s clear this hits home for de Blasio, but we’re hoping his personal testimony will mean real change for a disenfranchised and terrorized group of people in America.