I can remember the exact age I had “the talk” with my son. It’s the talk that many Black parents are forced to have with their children about police and what to do when you’re confronted by an officer. At the time, he was in the fourth grade and we were living in a Maryland suburb. His school was across a field located in front of our house, and one afternoon shortly after he came home, we both noticed some high school students sitting curbside, being handcuffed by police.
The group of boys couldn’t have been older than 15. I overheard a cop mention something about marijuana, immediately followed by one of the boys asking if he could call his mom. I stood in front of my door, hoping they would notice I was there. Because they were in our condo, I yelled and asked the boy for his mother’s phone number. I wasn’t prepared to hear what he said next.
“Please call my mother, she’s a cop. Just ask for [redacted] at the [redacted] police station,” the teenager said. My son looked at me and asked why they were handcuffed, even though they were only kids. And that’s when we had the talk.
I told him about the history between Black people and the police, and I tried my hardest not to go into an ACAB rant. I explained there weren’t enough good cops in the world. I talked about Rodney King and every other Black person who had an encounter with police that ended in death. We discussed what he should do if he ever comes in contact with an officer: “Comply. Listen. Remain calm.” Who knew, years later, after sending him off to college, I’d be living my worst nightmare.
As I watched the George Floyd video when it went viral last year, I was brought to tears when I heard him call for his mother. It brought me back to my son’s freshman year in college at a university in Virginia. His first semester went off without a bump. But one fateful night, during his second semester, I received a late-night phone call. On the other end, my son was hysterically crying. He was just held at gunpoint by the police just feet away from his university’s entrance gates. I was furious, but I was also glad he survived.
He followed the instructions I gave him in the fourth grade. He listened. He complied. He was polite. But when the cop asked if he had any weapons on him, he said he had a pocket knife that I gave him. Before he went to college, I told him if he left campus, make sure he carried protection. As he went to reach in his pocket, the guns were drawn on him and his friends. Why was he stopped? He did a slow roll through a red light.
It took months of back-and-forth to view the dash-cam footage from my son’s incident, I even spoke about it with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2018. But last year, when I heard George Floyd cry for his mom, it reminded me of my own son. During that frantic phone call, all I could hear him say was “I just wanted to cry and ask to call you, but I didn’t want to give them the benefit of seeing me cry.” He held on to those tears until he called me.
My son made it home safe, but George Floyd did not. But thankfully, 17-year-old Darnella Frazier caught his death on camera for the world to see. That video has been viewed millions of times and it was another Black death at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect and serve. And those “good” cops? Well, they stood back and watched.
On Tuesday I woke up with a knot in my stomach because I had a feeling the verdict was going to be handed down. I can’t remember how many times as a journalist I’ve covered these types of trials, and cried at the fact that another cop was able to walk out of the courtroom with his head held up high. There wasn’t any justice. There wasn’t any peace. To say I have faith in the justice system would be a prodigious overstatement. I waited on pins and needles. I had friends who told me there were in tears all afternoon leading up to the verdict. All I could do was hope for the best. In this case, the “best” was a guilty verdict on all three counts. Derek Chauvin will now await his sentence and in eight weeks, he’ll have that handed down on him.
It’s been three years since my son had his run-in with the police, and now that we currently live on different coasts, I pray every night that I never receive another phone call like the one during his freshman year in college. Although I know this won’t be the last death of a Black person at the hands of the police, I hope this verdict sparks much-needed change and peace for Floyd’s family.
Yesha Callahan is an award-winning journalist and TV writer currently living in Los Angeles.