A few years back Grits posed the question, "Is babysitting while white reasonable suspicion for police questioning?" after my granddaughter and I were detained and questioned at length in my neighborhood on suspicion of some nefarious deed (it was never quite clear what). In that incident, the police were pretty clear I was stopped solely because Ty, like her mother (who came to live with my wife and me when she was a child) is black, while I'm an almost stereotypical looking white Texas redneck. At the time, Grits was amazed that three squad cars were dispatched to question me for walking down the street with a child of a different race, detaining me for no good reason and scaring the bejeezus out of then-two-year old Ty.Is this something you worry about? Early on in the adopting process my social worker advised that it was always a good idea to have proof of parentage on you at all times when you and your child's race didn't match. She suggested I always carry a recent picture of the two of us together, so I could show it as proof that I hadn't just snatched my child. Of course, none of these tactics would prevent the initial police encounter, but the thought was at least you could avoid arrest as a kidnapper. . . .
Last night, though, Ty and I got the full jump-out-boys treatment, making our earlier interaction with Austin PD seem downright quaint. It could only have been more ridiculous if they'd actually arrested me, which for a while there didn't seem out of the question.
* * *
Our story began at the Millennium Youth Center in central east Austin, which is a city-owned rec center just a few blocks from my home of 22 years. . . .
Perhaps at 7:40 p.m. or so, after she'd had her fill of skating (if the event were put to music, the appropriate theme song would have been "Slip Slidin' Away"), I asked Ty if she'd like to walk home.
* * *
Our interaction with law enforcement began after we left the Millennium Center on foot, with the giddy five year old racing ahead and me trotting along behind admonishing her to stay out of the parking lot and stop when she gets to the sidewalk, don't run into the street, etc.. She was in a good mood, obeyed, and we held hands crossing the street and as we walked down the bike path toward Boggy Creek and back home.
Then behind us I heard someone call out, though I couldn't make out what was said. We stopped to look back, and there was a dark silhouette crossing the street who Ty thought was calling out to us. We waited, but then the silhouetted figure stopped, crouched down for a moment, then took a few steps back toward the rec center, appearing to speak to someone there. I shrugged it off and we walked on, but in a moment the figure began walking down the path toward us again, calling out when she was about 150 feet away. We stopped and waited. It was a brown-suited deputy constable, apparently out of breath from the short walk.
* * *
"Do you know this man?" the deputy asked. "Yes," Ty mumbled shyly, "he's my Grandpa." The deputy couldn't understand her (though I did) and moved closer, hovering over the child slightly, repeating the question. Ty mumbled the same response, this time louder, but muffled through a burgeoning sob that threatened to break out in lieu of an answer.
The deputy still didn't understand her: "What did you say?" she repeated. "He's my Grandpa!," Ty finally blurted, sharply and clearly, then rushed back over to me and grabbed hold of my leg. "Okay," said the deputy, relaxing, acknowledging the child probably wasn't being held against her will.
* * *
Ty was angrier about this, even, than I was. "Why is it," she demanded a few steps down the path, stomping her feet and swinging her little arms as she said it, "that the police won't ever believe you're my Grandpa?" (Our earlier run in had clearly made an impression, though she hadn't mentioned it in ages.) "Why do you think it is?," I asked, hoping to fend her off with the Socratic method. She paused, then said sheepishly, "Because you're white?" I grinned at her and said, "That's part of it, for sure. But we don't care about that, do we?" "No," she said sternly as we walked across the bridge spanning Boggy Creek just south of 12th Street, "but the police should leave you alone. It's not right that they want to arrest you for being my Grandpa." More prescient words were never spoken.
* * *
As soon as we crossed the street, just two blocks from my house as the crow flies, the police car that just passed us hit its lights and wheeled around, with five others appearing almost immediately, all with lights flashing. The officers got out with tasers drawn demanding I raise my hands and step away from the child. I complied, and they roughly cuffed me, jerking my arms up behind me needlessly. Meanwhile, Ty edged up the hill away from the officers, crying. One of them called out in a comforting tone that they weren't there to hurt her, but another officer blew up any good will that might have garnered by brusquely snatching her up and scuttling her off to the back seat of one of the police cars. (By this time more cars had joined them; they maxxed out at 9 or 10 police vehicles.)
I've never been doubted as a parent to this degree, though I wished I had followed my social worker's advice when the clerk at the pediatric opthamologist's office wanted to see my adoption decree for Maya (yeah, that's what all kidnappers do, take the kid to the pediatric ophthamologist!). But I'm sure familiar with a more benign phenomenon -- the kids are racing ahead of me toward a store, shopper exiting the store looks around for the parents of these Asian kids, and the eyes skim right by me, looking for the matching set of parents! You can just feel this potential Good Samaritan trying to figure out if she needs to intervene to corral these apparantly-unparented children. You call out, "Zoe, Maya, wait up!" The kids stop, the shopper relaxes, we all go on our way. . . .
Have you had similar experiences? How do you explain it to your children?