It's taken me awhile to get my thoughts and emotions together enough to write this very personal post.
My son is 19 now; above is a pic of him dressed nicely while we were on vacation when he was 16. For newbies to my blog, his name is Xavier and he's agreed I could share his stories so maybe they'll help others understand the problems of black youth.
In 2007, he was arrested with five other youths between 17 and 22. The only white kid in the car was his now ex-girlfriend whom I'll call her Nadia. She's blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful.
Like him, she was spent her early years in foster care (but in a Russian orphanage) and was adopted by Americans. This was a powerful connection for them when they met in a rehab in late 2006 and the month he turned 18.
Nadia's presence in a car full of black kids last spring or summer pissed off a cop. The pretext for the stop and search was that the new, temporary tag was slightly ripped (from a car wash). It was clearly racial profiling.
The driver of this new used car couldn't find his registration, but had his license and the receipt for the vehicle. The police used this as an excuse to call out a K-9 dog to do a drug search. This was unwarranted and never would have happened to me, a middle age woman going about her business. The dog quickly located a small amount of marijuana in the car.
The driver owned it but refused to claim it. All six kids were busted. Further, the police got a warrant and searched the driver's mama's house, where they found a lot more cannabis which the kid said he uses for his private use. He probably does; he's a pothead, but also had a job and attended community college. Xavier denied this particular friend was a dealer. He usually tells me the truth about these things, so I tend to believe him on this one.
Even though I know the code of the street from my work and his past juvie history of gangbanging, I asked Xavier why they didn't tell the police who owned the weed.
"I ain't no snitch," he growled in his deep voice.
"Are you afraid of this boy who owned it?"
"Hell no. I'd beat his fat ass to a pulp in a fight. The judge will figure we're innocent."
He wasn't the least bit worried. My son and Nadia had hearings on separate days in late June 2007. They had the exact same charges. Neither had adult criminal records and only misdemeanor charges as juvies. Neither bothered to get free public defenders, thinking the judge would listen to them. Well, he didn't. She got 2 months of probation. He got a year. He was pissed.
A week later, Xavier was hit as a pedestrian while standing in a large median strip trying to cross a busy road. I didn't find out until the next day. His head cracked the windshield and he was thrown in the air, then fell to the ground, landing on his knees. He was barely conscious. Once again a bad cop came to the scene. I'm not anti-police and most of the ones I've known are not only decent human beings, but admirable. And then there are the bad apples.
"That cop was a racist, Ma," Xavier said. "He was a dick. Talked to me mean, like I was dirt. Asked me if I tried to commit suicide. I kept saying no. He asked me if I was high."
"Hell no. I was almost out of it [unconscious], but I could see he wouldn't write the driver a ticket. He didn't want to. I think it's 'cause the guy was white. There's no reason that man should have hit me. He was probably talking on his damn cell phone."
Indeed, the officer or his partner didn't even ask my son about a next of kin or who to contact. Simply had him taken away by ambulance to a large urban hospital where my boy was by then, out cold. For all they knew he could have died on the way. I don't think they cared.
Thank the good Lord for miracles. Not a bone was broken. Xavier was able to call me the next afternoon. I arrived that evening to visit. This large hospital caters largely to the poor and they assumed he had no health insurance. They had just written his discharge papers when I arrived.
Can you believe that shit? I mean, if your head made friends with the windshield of a moving mini-van, dontcha think the hospital would keep you at least 48 hours for observation for the concussion?
I knew the boy was hard-headed, but this time it saved his life. His face was swollen and his forehead bandaged. His knees were seriously scraped. He still has a small knot on his head and scars on his legs. He left on crutches.
At the time, Xavier was living with his girl. They'd been together 9 months but the relationship was becoming unraveled. He moved back home where I nursed him back to health. He wondered why God spared him from death or a wheelchair, because against all odds, the accident should have broken his neck.
I urged him to see his probation officer as he got better.
"F the court and the police too. They're all racist. I hate them."
The best I could do was get him to call his probation lady and explain he hadn't shown up due to the accident.
All this was last summer. Fast forward to April. He's 19 now, and he and a 17 year old friend went to meet a girl at her home. She wasn't there so they waited for her. His Latino friend, I'll call him Juan, was drunk and noisy. A neighbor called the cops and said she thought they were trying to rob the place.
Excuse me, but burglars usually aren't loud. This was an upscale neighborhood. Xavier told his drunk-azzed homeboy to quiet down and they sat in Juan's mama's car and waited for the girl to get home.
Along came the police.
"Let me see your driver's license," one commanded Juan.
"Wha the F you wanna see that for? I ain't driving! I'm parked."
"Oh shit, nigga!", Xavier yelled. "Just give him your license!"
"Fok him," Juan replied. "I ain't done nothin' wrong!"
Just picturing this scene still makes me laugh. Young boys are sooo friggin' stupid.
Xavier watched Juan get an ass-whipping by the first cop and then was questioned and searched by the officer's partner, who discovered he had a warrant for Violation of Probation. Since it was a Friday night and there are no hearings in our county on weekends, he spent a memorable weekend in jail. Juan, being only 17, says he wasn't even charged with a citation for underage drinking. Will his Latino family sue the cops for roughing up their kid? Doubt if even told them about it. His people are vulnerable as immigrants and probably have illegal aliens in their house.
As a juvie, the cops would bring Xavier home when he got in trouble, usually for minor scraps with other adolescent gangbangers or 'loitering' past midnight. He had only one misdemeanor drug charge. He was always defiant, always mad, out of my control and almost always got off the hook. If ever there was a boy who needed a tough father, he was the one.
The police set a dangerous precedent for out of control juveniles: kids get the illusion that nothing bad will happen to them from the legal system. Then they turn 18 and all bets are off.
Now at 19 and busted for probation violation, he was taken to a detention facility for adults. It looks and smells like jail. That's because it is a jail. His cell mate was a drunk whose feet stank and the man yelled all night long.
He called me that Saturday, nearly in tears. "Ma, I might have to spend a year in jail for violating probation! It ain't fair! It wasn't even my weed last year!"
"They ain't gonna lock you up a whole year for misdemeanor weed possession. Trust me. It wouldn't make sense. The cost to the state wouldn't make it worth it. I'll see you in court Monday."
I got really discouraged after googling for the latest incarceration rates. Blacks are really screwed by our nation's judicial system, many of them for Mickey Mouse charges. This wasn't new information for me, but hits the heart harder when you know your kid might become one of those statistics.
[After you finish reading this post, I encourage you to read this excellent article on how the US has the largest prison population per number of citizens in the world, and why.]
On that Monday in mid-April of this year, I sat in court for two hours before by son's case was heard. This was bond hearing, which doesn't determine innocence or guilt over a charge, only whether or not the defendant will be released prior to a hearing or trial.
None of the accused were physically present - they were seen televised from detention facilities throughout the county. I was struck by how many of the Latinos said they didn't need an interpreter but clearly didn't even understand the judge's simple question of what is your name? About a quarter of these people were creeps and needed to be in jail, but most were there for dumb shit, like being homeless and peeing near the subway or minor drug possession. Several of women defendants with minor charges were clearly suffering from mental illness and some of them were homeless. Jail was hardly the solution for many of these people's problems.
I hated this judge. He was gruff, rude to all the families present except the few white ones (and I'm not lying) and even complained how the county's school system had to spend a lot of money on interpreters. His face was screwed up with disgust when he made this comment, which wasn't pertinent to anything involving the case before him of a man who needed a different sort of interpreter.
This judge was not only racist, but sexist. An older white guy was being detained for hanging his wife out of a window and threatening to kill her. This man actually swore curse words describing her and her family. The judge pretended not to hear them and snickered. An attorney on behalf of the wife said the man had been in counseling off an on for years for domestic violence, but has gotten away with it because he's wealthy. He had also been alleged to threaten to kill her when he got out of jail. The judge felt that since the counselor wasn't present, this was hearsay and irrelevant. Damn.
He let the man out on bond. Meanwhile, he was not setting bail for a lot of minorities with far less crimes, including minor drug possession and violating probation.
Finally, my son's case was called. I gave him a haircut the day before he was arrested, and I never thought I'd be thinking the thought that he looked so young and handsome in his blue-gray prison jumpsuit. He must've gotten a new one. Xavier would have been the perfect poster child for injustice of stupid, unfair petty marijuana laws, especially considering how the nearly half of ALL adult Americans have admitted to trying it - including our political leaders who never had to wear a county or state jumpsuit and had their lives derailed.
Could the judge see him? His youth? His fear? The TV was behind him on a wall. The audience could see the defendants, but unless the judge turned around - which he rarely did - he didn't.
I walked to the front of the courtroom but was invisible to the judge too. He wouldn't look up. Instead, he quickly reviewed Xavier's charge, and said in a sarcastic voice, "What's with these guys who never show up for probation?"
"Your Honor," I replied, "I can answer that."
He finally looked at me and actually snarled his words, "And who are you!?"
"His mother," I replied forcefully. I'm too old to be intimidated by a fat, mean, snarling redneck even it was his courtroom.
"His problem," I said, "is the same as many black youths all over this country. They're victims of racial profiling. My son's white girlfriend was arrested with him and had the exact same charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession. She got 2 months of probation. He got a year."
The people in the courtroom gasped.
I continued. "He fought back the only way a young, dumb teenager could - he didn't show up. He was too angry. Being hit by a car a week later and treated like dirt by another racist cop didn't help. I begged him to go to probation when he was better, but he couldn't. He said the system was too racist and unjust. In his immaturity he avoided the problem. I told him he had too, despite the unfairness."
The judge smiled arrogantly. "That's right," he agreed in what can only be described as a sadistic tone of voice. It was clear he got off on this shit.
I went off. I looked him dead in the eye and spoke to him like he was a child.
I said, "I want you to understand how decisions made in courtrooms affect young black males. My kid was traumatized from the day he was born when a white social worker dumped into not one but two neglectful foster homes, and one was so bad it was shut down. When I adopted him, he was malnourished. As a child the school system wouldn't come through and give him the services he needed for his learning and emotional disabilities. As a teenager he's been stopped too many times to count by police for simply walking down the street. All of this adds up, and by the time these black kids are grown, they have no faith nor much respect for the systems and laws that are supposed to protect them but instead are used against them. I've seen this today in your courtroom and I'm not pleased at all. America's founding fathers escaped Europe to get away from injustice, yet it continues."
"Shush!" he yelled at me.
He turned and looked at the monitor behind him, glancing quickly at Xavier before burying his head into his paperwork. My son's head was hanging down. My speech was torture for him. I know he was embarrassed and scared. I wasn't. I was right and dammit, the judge and the audience knew it too.
"Xavier, I'm going to release you on an unsecured bond despite what your mother has said."
Oh, he would fake like I was some nutcase talking through my hat.
"What's wrong with what I said?", I demanded.
The judge looked at me in shock, then anger. "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you," he said gruffly.
I glared at him angrily. "And what's wrong with telling the truth about racism?", I demanded. "That's why he's here now!"
"GET OUT OF MY COURTROOM!", he screamed.
As I walked out, all eyes were on me. The white attorneys there looked at me in awe. The families were simply shocked.
I listened outside the door before it shut completely and heard the judge give Xavier his hearing date would be at the end of May. I left, feeling that this racist judge got a lesson that he needed to hear and my kid was coming home - at least for the next six weeks.
That's the feel-good part of the story.
One of Xavier's best friend's stopped by in the afternoon. I've known him for years and know his family too. He calls me Ma. His father is a nice man, retired, and a recovered alcoholic. The boy now deals cocaine, and I learned that day - lots of it.
He said, "I know you don't have much, but I have the money to bail him out."
This kid was dressed like a movie star - or successful hustler. Fine clothes, leather coat, gold jewelry.
No, that ain't his pic, but he looks enough like this guy and has that fly style, so you get the idea.
"You have $2500 on you, in cash?", I asked, dumb-founded.
"Is Xavier dealing for you?", I asked sharply.
"Don't lie to me."
"No, Ma, he's really not. I love him like a brother and don't want to see him in jail."
"Then love yourself enough so one day he won't see you in jail, or dead. I hope you ain't lying, because you if don't know by now, Xavier is so learning disabled that he can't count money very well."
"Yeah, I know."
I didn't ask him how he knew. I ain't stupid.
The issues of drug use and dealing in the black community is complex. You watch kids you've loved grow up and become dealers. You encourage your child to cut ties with them, but many won't and when yours doesn't you dread those late night phone calls, worried it might be terrible news. Your kid loves his friends who have been with them through thick and thin since back in the day.
Like my son, my daughter Casie was a crack baby too, but her birth mom didn't drink. Unlike his early years in two miserable foster homes, her first six months of life was spent in a nurturing home and then she was placed with me. She escaped the learning disabilities, is an honor student and will start high school in the fall. I asked her yesterday if she had any friends yet who are dealing.
"Yeah," she said cautiously. "There's a boy in our class who started wearing really nice clothes this year. We asked where he got the money for this. He said he's dealing now."
"Is he black?"
"How are his grades?"
"Bad. He doesn't even look cool enough to be a dealer. He's skinny too."
"Does he play sports?"
"Yeah. He runs fast. He'll be on the track team next year."
I'm wondering now if her classmate will be able to outrun the police this summer and juvie lockup. If he does, his athletic ability may be his saving grace - if he doesn't kicked off for sinking under a C grade average. Less than a 2.0 GPA and you're history.
My own son had some investment in 9th grade until he was cut from the football team two years in a row. He had to repeat the 9th, and got cut again for having a D average. After that he stopped trying, even though if he hung on, he could have graduated by now - with a D average, but still, he'd have that diploma. He hated classes and his learning disabilities. He's so articulate that you could spend days with him and never guess because his IQ is normal. Not being on the team two years in a row was humiliating and depressing. He dropped out.
I shook my head. Boys who deal have several common enemies: other boys in the 'hood, school failure, low non-livable wages, a sense of never being able to reach that American dream, racism from a handful of mean, bored cops, and the kind of bad judgment that has always cursed the young.
On this day, my son didn't need his friend's $2500 since he signed out on an unsecured bond. He wasn't released from lockup until after 9PM. I thought he'd catch the bus home (he knows I hate to drive in the dark and the facility was kind of far away) but he arrived courtesy of his cocaine-dealing homie who went out there anyway. Ain't good friends great? Homeboy dropped him off in our parking lot, having the good sense to realize I might be a tad annoyed and give him another lecture.
"Ma! I'm free!", Xavier said. "Thank you so much! I thought that judge was gonna keep me! Especially after you talked shit to him. He kept almost everyone who had violated probation!"
"Yeah, I know."
We smiled, hugged, and chatted about the hearing. He told me how much he hated jail. We laughed, because he's funny and described it in a comedic way. This is what black folks often do to keep from crying.
Then I said, "I'm concerned you may have jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. Why did you ride with him? He might have had cocaine and if y'all had been stopped, you'd be right back in jail with a worse charge."
"He rarely carries it with him," he explained. "He's not stupid."
"Think hard about not chillin' with him anymore," I advised. "I really like him and I know you do too, but ask yourself if the friendship is worth your freedom."
Xavier tested clean over the next six weeks. He was determined to not go back to jail despite his love for weed since he was at least 14. To stay clean this long was an indication he was really scared of incarceration. He saw little of his drug dealing and using friends and found himself a new girlfriend. She a cutie with Carribean roots and a six month old baby boy that he loves. He pretends he's the child's father. He wants to have a good job and family in the next couple years and live like any normal American.
In court last week, a new judge whom I immediately sensed was fair and rational reviewed Xavier's violation of probation. This time he had a public defender, and a darn good one. This guy listened to me tell the tale of injustice. He told me that he's currently the attorney for a family who has filed suit against the very officer who did the racial profiling stop and arrest of Xavier and his friends last year, and has numerous complaints against him.
The public defender, who is white, said that cop is as racist as they come and there are quite a few on the police force here. He also knew the bond judge kicked me out his courtroom. Apparently Your Honor was so angry (or perhaps, moved) that he wrote about me in my son's record.
The new judge read all this. He could have locked up my son for never reporting to probation for up to a year - which was the length of the probation. He saw that the white girlfriend only received two months for the same charge, who the cop was, and that Xavier's urine testing had been negative for six weeks.
He set my son free.
I'm teary-eyed again now. Free, totally free. Probation dismissed. Injustice corrected. Case closed. Another chance.
I wept in the courtroom.
Xavier hugged me in the elevator and again at the car. "Thank you, Ma, thank you, thank you, thank you.... You saved me."
"God is saving you too, for something special," I told him.
In my heart, I have always believed this. My child should have died at birth given the circumstances of it, and has had other near-escapes with additional accidents that I haven't even discussed here. But he is kind, and the kind of person who has always come to the defense of victims.
For example, at a party when he was 17, he saw two guys attempting to drag a drunken girl to the bedroom to rape her. He didn't know her or the youths with this evil intention. He beat both their asses. This is the kind of person he's always been.
"God is no fool though," I told him. "You've had a lot of breaks by his grace. Test him one time too many and he'll prove he's not to be trifled with."
He nodded, thinking about this. "I'm through with weed," he said. "Part of me really thought I was going to jail. I'd lose my mind. I don't even talk to [my cocaine-dealing friend] anymore. I've tried to explain to him what I went through, but he won't listen. He's been too lucky by never getting caught. He thinks he can't get caught. I can't save him."
I listened quietly and thought how sometimes bad luck looks like good luck, as in the case of his friend.
"My other friends don't even smoke as much anymore," he continued. "Everything is too expensive now and the laws are awful. It's a form of genocide, locking up all of us."
He's heard me say that before. Now he's seen it for himself. He has two paths; which one will take?
"I'll have a beer once in awhile," he said,"but Ma, I really have a new life now, a new boo and her baby. The gym is my new best friend. I'm really not going back to weed."
Still, I wonder.