Black parent describes having 'the talk' with kids about police brutality, race in America

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's a conversation no mom or dad looks forward to -- explaining to a child how most interactions with police will go smoothly, but when they go bad, it can happen in a split second. Or it can go on for an interminable period of time.

As a human, what happened to George Floyd at the hands of police rocks you to your core -- dead because a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. But, as a Black parent, what keeps you up at night is the thought, "That could have been my dad, my brother or even one of my kids."

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"I have had the official 'talk,' if you will, with my oldest child," says Autumn McDonald of Oakland. She is a senior fellow with the think tank New America, formerly known as the New America Foundation. Autumn and her husband, a physician, have three kids and the eldest is 8 years old.

In June, she wrote a piece for Slate about talking to your children about police brutality. It was titled, "The Talk." ABC7 News' Eric Thomas asked whether 8 years old was too young to hear it.

"Oh, I absolutely think that's young, but, not too early," she said.

"'The Talk' is a parental balancing act, alerting children about interactions with police where body language, tone of voice, word choice and other factors in certain circumstances can lead to arrest, or worse."

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Autumn says she felt compelled to share it with her young son after he saw a snippet about George Floyd on TV.

"And he said something to the effect of, you know, 'is that happening now?' because he thought it was referencing something in the past. And I said 'yeah, no, that's now.' And he was also unclear why it was a police officer because when he was in kindergarten, he had been taught that police officers are community helpers."

Once she got the sociology out of the way -- it was time for concrete advice.

"It wasn't about if you're right or wrong, she says. It was just -- it doesn't matter. You can't argue, you have to listen and say 'yes sir' and be submissive basically."

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It's a tough lesson to teach your offspring: Yes, you have certain guaranteed rights, but it's probably safer not to argue about them during an encounter with police.

Now, this story is not meant to make all police officers out to be villains intent on hurting people of color. But, they're your kids and Autumn says you're not going to take any chances.

"When the thing that strikes fear into a potential police officer, or anyone, is your blackness, how do you lay down your 'weapon' when your weapon is your identity?"

It's not a new conversation. But, the difference now is video. Nearly everyone on the street has a cellphone and can produce images to compare against the official narrative of police use of force incidents. Us baby boomers could only imagine what that fatal encounter must have looked like. Now we, and our kids, can see it and worry about it.

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