Last week, every parent’s nightmare came true.
Wait. Strike that. The nightmare of every parent of a black son. Or a Hispanic son. Or one of Middle Eastern descent.
DJ Hrubes, a 4-foot, 6-inch tall 10-year-old with disabilities, had a gun pulled on him by a Woods Cross police officer while he was playing in his grandma’s front yard. He is lucky he isn’t dead.
His mom, Jerri, was horrified and terrified to see her young son being ordered to the ground by a police officer pointing a gun at him. She rushed out of the house, yelling at the officer that DJ was her son. She believes her son was profiled because he was black and now wants an investigation.
Some online commenters have said DJ doesn’t look like he’s 10, that he looks older. He is under four and a half feet tall, so hardly the “adult male of medium build” that police were looking for.
Here’s why that’s particularly concerning: Research from the American Psychological Association found that “black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime.”
On the flip side, research from sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that if you are a white middle class male, you are not held fully responsible for your actions until at least your late 20’s.
Put yourself in Jerri's shoes. Can you imagine how terrified you would be if you saw a police officer pointing a gun at your child’s head? Especially knowing that your child was disabled?
It can be easy — way too easy — to stay in a bubble and believe that there is no racial profiling in our communities, to blame “others” when something like this happens. “Well, he looks older.” “Well, he shouldn’t have been outside.” Do you really think if the police scanner had said the suspects were two white adult males of medium build that any police officer would have stopped his car, jumped out and pointed his gun at a white 10-year-old boy in his grandma’s front yard? I didn’t think so.
Let me tell you about DJ. DJ is a young man without guile. He has a heart as big as the sky. He was born in Haiti and nearly died in the earthquake there. He made it to the U.S .on humanitarian parole, weighing a mere 10 pounds at 8 months old. He was subsequently diagnosed with major eye problems, going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgeries, finally getting a cornea transplant last year.
Even though the threat of losing his vision was very real, DJ always said he’d be OK if that happened because he had his family. I am sure he was really scared when he had an officer yelling at him and pointing a gun at him, but DJ still complied with the officer’s demands and then, had the ability to hug that same officer when he returned later and apologized.
May I suggest that if we enjoy a position of privilege (and yes, if we're white, that counts), that we have a responsibility to reach out in love and empathy to people who don’t have the same advantages we do?
Talk with your neighbors raising a multi-cultural family. Speak up when things happen and even better, before things happen. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Work to understand why families with black sons are scared. And, to understand how hard it is to be a police officer today. Be willing to hear and learn from those with different life experiences than you. Not everyone shares your reality.
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor said “Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
Please don’t be indifferent.
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribyne, is the mom of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic family who has seen first-hand how her black adult sons are treated differently.