How can I prepare my 13-year-old Black autistic son for encounters with police?

by Laura Savage

Dear Nadir,

Today, like far too many days, another unarmed Black male was killed by a white police officer who felt threatened by and most likely didn’t see the value in a Black life. It makes no difference that this child or man may have broken the law because that hasn’t been proven.

Laura’s beloved son Nadir
Laura’s beloved son Nadir

It does matter that this so-called “peace officer” decided that that Black male was guilty when he saw he was Black. It matters that that officer was trained in nonviolent tactics to de-escalate confrontations – if any arise – and chose not to use them. It matters that this day, unfortunately, is like any other day in the past 500 years since Blacks were shipped against their will from their homelands on the continent of Africa to the Americas.

Why do I write to you? I write because as I look at your 201-pound, 6-foot-2-inch, 13-year-old self I can’t help but fear for your soul. Your soul … the keeper of your unwaveringly happy, playful, yet severely autistic spirit who wants badly to communicate his truth. Your soul … who wants to manifest in the body you’ve been given but encounters the limitations of that body and of the world you were born into.

I’ll never know what it is like to be you. I don’t know what it is like to have a speech delay that makes it nearly impossible sometimes to communicate your needs, wants and feelings. I don’t know what it is like to be a male in puberty – faced with crazy hormones and changes all while trying to keep your overloaded senses in check.

I do know what I observe in you. And I know that this world is just flat out unsympathetic, downright mean, racist and biased against individuals of your nature: Black, male, disabled and trusting.

This so-called “peace officer” decided that that Black male was guilty when he saw he was Black. It matters that that officer was trained in nonviolent tactics to de-escalate confrontations – if any arise – and chose not to use them.

Make no mistake in understanding what I am saying to you. You are PERFECT in the body and soul you’ve been dealt. I tell you because what kind of mother would I be if I failed to prepare you for the harshness you will encounter? What kind of mother would I be?

So when I am hard on you because you didn’t do your chores or you didn’t do your homework or were talking back, remember it’s because I know what is waiting for you. I see what you can’t because you are living as a child –as you should be – but I need to toughen your spirit so it isn’t crushed later.

Why do I write to you? I write because as I look at your 201-pound, 6-foot-2-inch, 13-year-old self I can’t help but fear for your soul.

I tell you because I love you more than life itself. I tell you because I want you to live a long life. I tell you because when you are having a tantrum and yelling and slamming doors and falling onto the floor or banging on walls and on doors with your fists because you don’t get your way, I know what the passers-by are thinking. I know what the onlookers in the store are thinking when you are yelling at the top of your lungs or hitting me because you can’t have the orange soda in the glass case by the register. I know.

It is because I know that I go to work every day and teach the other Black parents how to fight for their child’s education. It is because I know that I fight for each and every student of color whose name passes by my desk and those who don’t to be treated as humans.

Remember that I love you in all of your Black male, autistic, 6-foot-2-inch, 201-pound glory … and I always will. Remember.

It is because I know that Trayvon looked just like you when you wear your hooded sweatshirts to keep warm when leaving the house. It’s because I know that your size intimidates most grown men – of any racial or ethnic background. It’s because my soul would cease to exist and cease fighting to exist if anything happened to you.

So remember the next time you get angry about not being able to use the computer and you go on a tirade, remember that mama loves you and wants the best for you. Remember this when you are stopped by a police officer as you are “walking while Black.”

Remember this when your teacher looks at you as if you have no future. Remember this when you try to express yourself through anger, happiness, fear, joy or confusion.

Remember that I love you in all of your Black male, autistic, 6-foot-2-inch, 201-pound glory … and I always will. Remember.

Love,

Mama

Laura Savage is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. She can be reached at lsavage26@gmail.com.