Beyond The Talk:

The women of Dallas Public Voices speak out on the impact of Jordan Edwards’ police shooting death on their children and beyond

By Margo McClinton Stoglin

The verdict in the police shooting death of Philando Castile is a real blow to all who are weary of what this jury decision represents for policing in communities of color and how it impacts society as a whole. Black parents have perfected The Talk, in what they hope will be life-saving lecture that will encourage their children to respect authority while staying safe. But the trend of police shootings and abuse of unarmed black citizens, many of them still children, impacts us all regardless of race, color or creed.

As the May police shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in a Dallas suburb shows, no amount of lectures can keep black youth safe. Let’s not forget Chicago’s Laquan McDonald, shot in the back 16 times by a Chicago cop on trial this summer. Or Dajerria Becton, a McKinney, Texas, teen who was repeatedly slammed by a local cop and the South Carolina girl who was slammed by school officer Ben Fields. There are many more names, and the list grows even darker when adults like Castile, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray are added. But let’s not forget the crime that ignited this horrible season, the 2012 murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, taken down by a wannabe cop, whom jurors couldn’t see fit to punish.

When the Dallas Public Voices Fellows met in June, we realized we are a multicultural group of women professionals and thought-leaders who are all impacted by this phenomenon. Jordan’s death, for one, was much too close, and we couldn’t help but shudder for the black children we know and love but worry what this teaches all children about the value of life and the role of police who are charged to protect us.

We emphatically empathize with police who face unpredictable life or death situations. But we are concerned with the persistent phenomenon of violent and fatal reactions where police and black children are involved. We thought about this and offer our insights below, as many of us are mothers and some of us have sons. Regardless of our status, we are hurting for in our community and we want them to know we’re holding them in our hearts and seeking to make a difference — a safer one.

Sadie Funk
CEO of First3Years

I was struck by how a relatively normal experience, attending a high school party, can divulge into the harsh reality of two realities. I attended a party or two in high school in which the activities ended with police, and myself on foot in the opposite direction. Luckily for me, a white female in North Dallas, I generally got away with it, and those less fortunate ended with a slap on the wrist, or a ticket and ride home. That was about the worst it got.

The conversation and activity about race that has happened over the last 60 years has gotten us here, but it won’t get us there.

For teens across town, specifically black teens, this same situation, a high school party, has ended in a teen death. I’m not sure what to say about it that hasn’t been said. It’s upsetting, it’s heartbreaking, and yes, it’s about race. It’s not fair, it’s disgusting, it’s painful. It’s time for change.

The conversation and activity about race that has happened over the last 60 years has gotten us here, but it won’t get us there. Our country, but more importantly our cities need to have real conversations about what it means to be a person of color in 2017, and those in power and those without power need to listen. We need to listen, to reflect, and then not only act differently but hold new standards for ourselves, our neighbors, our leaders, and our law enforcement about how we treat people and what it means to be equal under the law. For me, I know I need to listen. I often don’t feel I have a place to speak, except maybe against the injustice.

But I also realize this isn’t sufficient and it isn’t enough … so what is my next move, what is your next move in pursuit of racial equity?

Candice Bledsoe
Professor, Southern Methodist University

My son is 13. I often encourage him to spread his wings and try new things because I want him to embrace new opportunities. He is charming, hardworking, handsome, smart, sweet, and comical, and that’s the way I want the world to see him.

When I learned of the Jordan’s shooting death, I was very upset. There is nothing that separates him from my son. As a black mother, I understand the world sees black children differently. I grieve. I hate the mistreatment and violence committed against people of color. These are senseless killings, and it most stop. Until then, I am honest with my son about the injustices of the world. Some people may judge him because of the color of his skin. I want him to be aware that racism and white supremacy is real. However, he can navigate through this world successfully.

James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

As a mother, I think we should mobilize. Collette Flanagan lost her son, Clinton Allen, to police violence. As a result, she created Mother’s Against Police Brutality. Mothers should also organize with schools, local officials and state policymakers to create change. James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It is time for us to stand up against police brutality, and mothers of every race and creed can ban together to help make that change.

Yulise Waters
Dallas City Attorney

I have taught my son that police officers do important work. He has met several officers who have helped protect me when I have had to work late and go into dangerous places. He is still wrapping his mind around the police killings. He, by nature truly loves everybody. It is difficult for his mind to understand 1) how an officer could feel so threatened that they take the lives of unarmed children, men, and women or 2) how a paradigm/context can exist in which such actions can be explained. To begin constructing a framework for him, my husband and I have begun with the history of Africans in America.

We need to band together across racial, religious and class lines to push for mental health education and mental health care reform for officers.

Moreover, we should teach all children the value of human life and the value of their lives. We need to band together across racial, religious and class lines to push for mental health education and mental health care reform for officers. We must advocate for special investigators to be appointed to investigate police-involved shootings to make sure interests of everyone involved is considered and transparency undergirds the process.

Jennifer Sampson
CEO United Way Dallas

If we want to raise our children to be compassionate people who participate as responsible citizens in a democracy, we need to find ways to talk with them about the thorny issues we struggle with as a country. Race, violence and how to create change in a democracy are three. I don’t think there is ever one conversation about such a big issue; I think we need to talk repeatedly about these tough issues on an ongoing basis as they arise.

Racism dehumanizes all of us.

Sometimes current events will create the opportunity or the need for such discussions; sometimes our personal lives will. Because we as adults struggle with these issues, we will often find ourselves struggling to know how to talk to our children about them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do so. Racism dehumanizes all of us. We can only end racism by talking with all of our children about how it unfair it is to people of color and to our entire society, and by teaching our children that treating all people fairly matters.

Margo McClinton Stoglin
Texas State Director, Ignite

If I could tell Jordan’s mother, Charmaine, anything, I would say you are not alone, and many other mothers feel your pain and empathize with you. We cry with you and we feel angry, too. We wish more could be done. We feel angry that our country has stood on its high horse about social injustices in the Middle East and Africa, and we, too, are killing our own.

Our country has stood on its high horse about social injustices in the Middle East and Africa, and we, too, are killing our own.

As a mother, I strongly believe we should no longer be silent: We have an opportunity to speak up and put and place pressure on police departments, municipalities and the court system to ensure justice. We should advocate for police departments municipalities and court systems to ensure justice. Resources should be allocated to provide updated training for police across the nation as we hold police stations, and their culture and communities accountable for racist practices, which have been well-documented in research. We know what the problems are; we need the will to fix them.

Alia Salem
Former Executive Director of CAIR, Texas DFW

The idea that Jordan’s death only affects the black community is a naïve premise we must permanently shed sooner rather than later. With each passing tragedy, people are waking up and joining in the new awakened consciousness of our shared responsibility. Whatever your social justice struggle is, it is inextricably tied to the reality and injustice of police brutality and anti-black racism. When we finally internalize and act upon rectifying this central injustice, when we rise up and say in one voice that black lives matter, only then will all lives truly matter.

Christina Hanger
CEO, Dallas AfterSchool

My son is 21, and I want him to be healthy, happy and productive, to have work he is proud of and makes the world a better place — however he defines that. I want him to try new things and learn every day. I know his father and I are no longer his primary teachers and he has to learn on his own. He feels the injustice of these shootings keenly and there is nothing I can say to him to make that better. Nor can I protect him from the evil and injustice that is in this world.

We need to be clear to our local governments that this is not acceptable, and it isn’t happening to someone else’s children but to the children of us all.

When I heard about the latest shooting, my heart broke for that mother and all the other mothers who have been in that position and also for those that will be in the future — because I think we can guarantee it will happen again. As mothers we have to speak out and mobilize but not just in the schools. We need to be clear to our local governments that this is not acceptable, and it isn’t happening to someone else’s children but to the children of us all.

Jamila Thomas
Dallas Independent School District, African American Success Initiative Coordinator

My son is 6, and I believe having adventures and trying new things are fundamental to the growth and development of children. Being inquisitive is especially innate in boys because of their “boy spirit” to want to test the waters in so many creative ways. Cultivating their natural ability to question is especially important. It only becomes a problem when they meet that one person who begins to stifle their creativity because of their individualized fear of that child’s future possibilities.

Prayer is my № 1 source of protection … I want my son to know he has a strong village surrounding him and ready to catch him.

I want my children to view the world from the lens of exciting expectations. In other words, the world being able to fit in the palm of their hands knowing they can shape and mold it however they choose. In turn, the world should view them as human beings capable of bringing new insight, joy and limitless possibilities to all things. I want him to have the ability to navigate in such a way that he is not a threat but rather seen as a kind, strong and thoughtful person.

When it comes to The Talk, I want him to understand that people in systems do bad things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the system is wrong. At the same time, I will be sure to provide a thorough understanding of the history of relationship between black boys and the police. History will be the barometer that will help to set the foundation for a clear understanding as to why wrongful shootings are even possible especially when race may be the main factor.

Prayer is my № 1 source of protection, while providing a loving environment not only in my home but also in my circle of friends. I want my son to know he has a strong village surrounding him and ready to catch him should he fall prey to the world. I know I cannot protect him 24 hours a day, so my faith sustains me and keeps me level headed when he is not in my care.

When I heard about Jordan’s death, I had a visceral reaction. This child looks like my son! And the way people described Jordan’s sweet, smart, creative character, he sounds like my son. Mother to mother, if I could do or say anything for Jordan’s mom, I would simply hug her. Her son is our son.

More from Dallas Public Voices: Jordan Edwards belongs to all of us.