How does a mother explain to her children the fact that the police kill people? Especially when the children are black and they’ve just seen the choking death of a black man — Eric Garner — on television, at the hands of police?
On Saturday, at a candlelight vigil on Staten Island to memorialize Garner, resident Kyona Archbold explained to NBC News the struggle she had with finding appropriate answers to her children’s questions. Her two boys, ages six and four, were unfortunate witnesses to a news brief that came on television as they snuggled in bed with their mother, waiting for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to begin.
The brief was an announcement that a grand jury failed to bring an indictment against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s death. It included a video of Pantaleo choking Garner. As the death unfolded before their eyes, the six-year-old asked:
Mommy, what happened?.
Archbold told the reporter:
I thought about the fact that I had to explain to my four and six-year-old boys that police officers who are here to protect them have killed someone.
The six-year-old lays bare the responsibility of law enforcement
Immediately, the child responded to her explanation with:
But Mommy, I thought that the police officers were supposed to protect us.
The mother floundered a bit, searching for a way to explain to her children what they could clearly see with their own eyes. Finally, she said:
They do protect us but sometimes they make mistakes.
The boy was still watching what was happening onscreen. With more innate wisdom than a whole grand jury of adults managed to summon, he said:
That’s not a mistake. He’s choking him.
It was bad enough trying to explain to the older boy, but the four-year-old was turning events over in his own mind. Finally, he asked his mother:
Mommy, do police officers make mistakes with little people, too?
How heart-wrenching is that, for a woman to be confronted with the innocence of her children, knowing this was the moment that innocence was going to be lost? Her children often talked about becoming policemen or firefighters, but now they were exposed to an ugly truth. People who are supposed to protect us sometimes kill us.
And does that ever happen to little people? What’s a mother to say when her strongest instinct is also to be the protector of her children? The best answer Archbold could come up with was:
I hope not.
The hardest part is knowing what could be.
And that, of course, is not good enough. Away from her boys, speaking to the camera, she explained the hardest part:
I have two black boys at home and this could be them. This could be my husband … they saw that a police officer killed a man — who he is supposed to be protecting. I don’t — I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to explain it to them that — how this happened. I don’t know.
While the mother faltered in coming up with answers, the child had no difficulty supplying them himself. The six-year-old saw the situation clearly. A policeman choked a man to death. The death was not a mistake.
Why was that such a difficult fact to grasp for every single adult who could have brought about justice?
Watch the video of the candlelight vigil and the interview with Kyona Archbold here:
H/T NBC News | Feature photo: screenshot from NBCNews.com