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Over the last few months, our son has been recovering from a severe concussion from a sports injury, and as a result, he's been restricted from doing just about anything.  So, when the doctor gave him permission to resume some mild exercise (e.g. taking walks) our son was thrilled.  

In fact, "thrilled" is much too mild a term. Ecstatic comes a bit closer to his emotions and mindset as he was putting on his shoes for his first walk, on his own, since the injury.  

The complete rest order had been akin to being under house arrest with nothing to do in the house but sit or lie down quietly in a darkened room, with combined TV and screen time being restricted to 2 hours a day.  Music could only be listened to at low volumes and even reading was off limits.  We'd had to take him out of school, and he was being home tutored.  When he was about to lose it, we'd take him out to restaurants, on off hours, to reduce sensory input.  For a formally active and social 16 yo, the convalescent months had been an awful and lonely experience.

So, it's difficult to capture and convey how filled with joy he was as he pulled on his shoes for his first walk in the sunshine, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, on his own, in months.  As he left the house with a big smile on his face, my eyes filled with grateful tears -- my boy was healing. He was going to be okay.

Less than an hour later, he was back -- breathing heavily, scared, and confused -- his face streaked with tears.

Mom, some crazy lady was following me in a Mercedes, so I decided to come back home, and then, a police car came down the street and he stopped me and questioned me. But I wasn't doing anything wrong, Mom, I swear it -- I was just walking.  Mamma, what's going on?  What's going on?
Shocked and worried, I tried to calm him down to learn more about what had occurred.
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He' been walking through our neighborhood -- his neighborhood since he was 3 years old.  It's a suburban neighborhood, with each landscaped lot being about an acre. It has a park-like look to it complete with a couple of large lakes. Houses rarely go on sale, here, and when they do, they are snapped up quickly. In summary, it's a lovely, upper middle class neighbohood in which our son has happily biked, fished, done fundraising, kayaked, played ball, ridden the school bus with all the kids, and become friends with just about every dog in the neighborhood.  It was his place in the whole wide world, with all the happy, warm, and secure feelings a child attaches to their home.

However, on this day as he walking through his neighborhood, he noticed that whereever he went, a woman in Mercedes seemed to be whereever he was.  At first, he thought it an odd coincidence, and then, she abruptly pulled her car into a driveay just in front of him.  He had to draw up short in order to not be hit by the car. Our son looked at the woman and his irritation turned to fear as he saw that the woman was glaring at him.  

Scared, he backed up and decided to get on home.  As he was quickly back-tracking, she began following him with her car -- about 20 feet behind him.  When the woman was forced to go past him due to another car behind her our, son memorized her licence plate (smart kid) and continued his fast walk toward home.  

With our house in sight, our son saw a police car coming down the street toward him.  His initial reaction was relief, thinking the policeman would protect him from the wierd lady if she came back.  However, his relief turned into complete confusion when the policeman put on his lights on and pulled over beside him.  

The policman was polite to our son, but nonetheless, he began questioning him.  What's your name?  Where do you live?  How old are you?  Where do you live ... go to school?  What are you doing? Is that all you were doing?  Where were you walking?  Why were you taking a walk?  

Hearing my son's polite and respectful responses to all his questions, the policeman thanked him, and told him he could be on his way.  Humiliated and confused by the experience, our son decided to ignore his doctor's restrictions and he headed for home in an all out sprint.

Getting this much of the story out of him as I was wiping his face and neck with cool cloths, I gave him a couple of ibuprophens to help him deal with the headache bloom the entire episode had brught on and sent him to lay down in his room.

Wanting answers, I called our local police station. Being white, and quite aware of the reality of white entitlement, I expected and knew I'd get answers to my questions.  Within 15 minutes of my call, the police officer who stopped and questioned my son called me right back, even though he was still out on patrol.  

It seems that the weird lady who was following our son with her car had called the police on our son to have the police come out and question the "suspicious looking, Hispanic man who looked like he was on drugs and might be thinking about robbing someone."  The policeman pulled our son over and determined his who, what, where, why ... and then, he reported back to the woman.  He further told her that we would be within our rights to file a complaint against her for harrassing our minor son who was lawfully exercising his right to freely walk on a public street. The policeman couldn't have been nicer or more apologetic and stopped just short of calling the woman a nutcase.

We'd recently gotten an email regarding the existence of a Neighborhood Watch group, and talking with my Husband aobut the incident, we wondered if this odd and frightening event may have had anything to do with this group.  So, we sent an email to everyone on the list of the group.

Here's the email we sent out

Hello,

A very upsetting and sad incident occurred, Friday afternoon, in our neighborhood.   Around 2:00 in the afternoon, our son came home from taking a walk shaken, frightened, and completely bewildered.

A woman in a silver or white Mercedes with the license plate xxxABC seemed to be following our child as he was taking a walk through the neighborhood.  He was so unnerved by the woman’s odd behavior that he made a point of memorizing her license, decided to cut his walk short, and go home.  

As he was crossing the bridge on XXXXXX on his way back to our house on XXXXX, a policeman pulled up to detain and question him.  While he was confused about why the policeman was questioning him, he nonetheless politely answered the officer’s questions explaining that he was taking a walk, that he lived in the neighborhood, and he readily gave the officer his name, his parents’ names and his address.  

Between the strange woman and the policeman questioning him, our son arrived home understandably upset, scared, and confused.

Listening to the odd events, I decided to call the police to ask what in the world was going on?  Why did they stop and question our child as he was taking a walk?  And, I also wanted to talk with them about the odd actions of the woman who had scared our son.

Talking with the police, I learned that the events were actually related to one another.  The woman was indeed tailiong our child, and she was the one who called the police – not because our child was doing anything wrong, but rather because the woman didn’t like the looks of our child walking in her neighborhood.  It seems that the woman had some really bizarre ideas that our child was a suspicious looking Hispanic person, probably high on drugs or alcohol, and that he was walking around thinking about robbing someone.

Well, here’s a couple of pictures of our supposedly scary child – front and back -- that we took of him, Friday, dressed as he was on his walk.  Here’s who he actually is:
•    His first name is XXX.
•    His last name is on his sports jacket!
•    5 foot 4 inches tall.
•    weight 109 lbs.
•    He’s a sophomore, Honor Roll student at XXXXXXXXXXXX High School.
•    He’s on the XXXXXX Team, so if he’s not wearing his XXXX baseball jacket as in the picture, he’ll probably be wearing his XHS XXXXX sweatshirt.

Contrary to the woman’s imaginings, he’s white.  He does have dark brown hair, beautiful dark brown eyes, and his complexion is a bit darker, at the moment, since we just got back from a Spring Break vacation in Florida, so he has a gorgeous tan.  However, he’s white – not that THAT should matter one bit.

And, he wasn’t taking a walk with plans to rob anyone.  His doctor’s haven’t allowed him to exercise for the last couple of months since he’s been healing from a severe concussion he got during a wrestling practice in January. Yesterday was the first day he’d been cleared to begin getting some light, aerobic exercise, so we sent him out to take a walk as part of his convalescence.  

Oh, and no, our child does NOT do drugs or drink alcohol.

After we got off the phone with the police, as parents, we had to sit our son down to try to explain the ugly incident to him.  In essence, the woman you thought was following you with her car was watching you, because she judged you to be a suspicious looking Hispanic person, probably high on drugs or alcohol, who didn’t live here and therefore had no business or right to be walking down the streets in her neighborhood. She assumed that you were probably walking around thinking about robbing someone, so she called the police on you.  

Imagine having to have that kind of discussion with your child.

After the initial shock, he cried.  He was bewildered and hurt that anyone could think he was some sort of dangerous, creepy, drugged-out criminal.  

As a result of this woman’s odd imaginings and actions, our child was made to feel unwelcome in what he previously felt was his neighborhood, his special place in the world.  Until Friday, he had that deep and wonderfully innocent, safe comfort a child feels about their home.  Our son no longer has that same special feeling about this neighborhood.  We hope it may come back, but we’re saddened that it may not.

As a family, we’ve been going through a number of emotions, as we’ve been trying to process this ugly incident.  We’ve taught our son about his rights as an American, so his sadness transitioned to anger about being questioned by the police for doing nothing wrong and only exercising his right to walk down a public street, for being stopped and questioned by the police, without any probable cause.  After some huffing and puffing about that, his focused changed.  

We’ve also raised him as a Christian, so his anger shifted to empathy and concern for other children, who might not be white, who might actually be Hispanic or Black.  What might happen to them if they took a walk in our neighborhood?  

"My friends XXX and XXXXX and XXXXX are always coming to visit me --- Hell, XXXX and XXXXXX live down the street!  Is she going to follow them, call the cops on them, maybe run over someone becasue SHE doesn't think they BELONG?"

Good questions, son.   As parents, Trayvon Martin frankly came to mind.

We don’t know if the Neighborhood Watch team had anything to do with yesterday’s incident, or if the woman was just somebody in the neighborhood taking it upon herself to “protect” the neighborhood.  Looking at the website for the Neighborhood Watch, it seems that the incident yesterday was not in line with how the Neighborhood Watch is supposed to operate.  My wife was actually one of the people who had their car broken into, and had her wallet stolen, so normally, we might be people who would support of a Neighborhood Watch.  If the woman wasn’t someone on the Neighborhood Watch team, we’d appreciate being reassured to that effect.

If she isn't, we wanted to alert the Neighborhood Watch to be on the lookout for the woman who racially profiled our child, scared him by following him around with her car, and then called the police on him.   She was skirting awfully close to Harassment of our minor child under KY 525.070  Harassment   (1) A person is guilty of harassment when, with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she: (d) Follows a person in or about a public place or places.  

The only thing the woman seems to have gotten right was our child was taking a walk – the rest of the ugly nonsense was the product of her own mindset.  We find this to be very disturbing.  

Our son will be continuing to walk, jog, fish, play, bike, and generally live his life in this neighborhood.  If anything like yesterday’s incident ever happens to him, again, the police have advised us to have him call them, and then, call us.  We want to make very sure this never happens to him or any other children or anyone, ever again.  

We will be attending the meeting on the XXth as a family to learn more about the Neighborhood Watch effort.  If you would like to contact me, my cell number is:  xxx-xxxx or my husband at xxx-xxxx.  

Thank you for you time and attention,

The reaction to this email was almost immediate.  It turns out that the woman was the head of The Neighborhood Watch!  My husband received a tear-filled apology call from the woman, who subsequently showed up on our door-step (uninvited) for an in-person apology.  That experience was deeply unnerving.  Talking a mile a minute, the woman definitely seemed like she had more than one issue, and we were both releaved when she left!  Days later, we got an apology card in which she tried to frame the situation like she had called the police, because she had been concerned about our child's welfare!  

In addition to the response from the woman herself, we also recieved reply emails from most of the people on the Neighborhood List expressing their concern and support.  Most of them knew our son and were shocked and horrified.  All of the emails expressed disgust with the racial profiling.

We checked back on the Neighborhood Watch website, and the day after the email went out, the woman was no longer listed with the group and about half of the former members had quit.

We are still processing this experience.  With Zimmerman going on trial, our son has been following the events very closely.  We know that this is a common experience for many families, and it has increased our empathy.  We also know that the subsequent reactions and actions were due to white priviledge -- the police responded and we got answers to our questions.  We were pleased with the number of neighbors who rejected the racism demonstrated in the situation.

BUT, the entire episode sits uneasily in our memories and on our hearts.  This event actually happened a couple of months, ago, and I am only now writing about it. We are just one neighborhood, and we worry and feel for all those who are targeted for walking while black, brown and even tan.

8:22 AM PT: Wow.  I stepped away to help the son I wrote about make waffles for Dad (without injuring himeslef or wrecking the kitchen) and came back to being on the Rec. List.  Thank you all, and now, I will be reading and responding to comments.


Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to bkamr on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 06:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by My Old Kentucky Kos, White Privilege Working Group, and Barriers and Bridges.

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