Being the mother of two teenage boys is tough, especially in this day and age. Given the most recent sequence of events between young Black men and the police, it raises the worry bar more than a bit. When my boys started venturing out on their own, they got “the talk.” Not the birds and the bees talk. The “how to act when the cops approach you” talk. This has become a mandatory conversation in the majority of households that include young Black men. The profiling and possibility of randomly being stopped and searched is very real. People don’t believe it but it happens and will continue to happen. No matter how much you talk and prepare them for a possible encounter, I learned firsthand that it’s a whole different ball game when it actually happens.
My son was out with his friends one afternoon in New York City. They were playing basketball and he decided to ride a Citibike home because it looked like it was going to rain. We live about 12 blocks from where he was coming from so he figured riding the Citibike would help him get home before the rain. He’s Black. He was wearing a hoodie. He became an instant target. Being a novice rider, he sometimes rides on the opposite side of the street. But as we all know, the bike riders in NYC rarely adhere to the bike rules and are rarely stopped for their actions by the police. An unmarked car followed my son for about 10 blocks before they approached him.
I was at an evening work event and I happened to step out to text a client. The venue I was in had poor service so when I got outside, a series of text messages dropped in. A few were from my mom who was alerting me that my son had not made it home and it was past his curfew He was not answering phone calls or text messages. As a mother, that is an instant red flag. I started calling and texting him and his friends. After a few minutes, I received a call from a “No Caller ID” number. I rarely answer those but given the circumstances, I did. It was an officer from my neighborhood precinct telling me that they had my son in custody for stealing a Citibike. “Don’t bother coming to the station. He will be at court in the morning.” I couldn’t have gathered my things fast enough. I was at that precinct in less than five minutes.
When I got there, the arresting officer was standing at the desk. The tone of his voice on the phone was very different now that I was standing in the precinct. First and foremost, my son didn’t steal the Citibike. The bike was legally rented with a Citibike tag. He told them that several times but that didn’t seem to matter. They booked and processed him AFTER checking out the facts. Being booked meant he had to go to Central Booking (the Tombs) and wait to see the judge, like all the other adults that were arrested that night. My son is 16-years-old, a minor. According to the courts though, if you are arrested at 16, you are legally considered an adult. That’s some BS because any other time, he’s just a kid. I mean, he can’t even vote!
The officer told me that my son was “well-behaved and cooperated with their demands.” Of course he did, he was schooled well. I didn’t care about any of that. I was trying to speak to someone about taking him home. No crime was committed here. Why was my 16-year-old son still in custody? Why was he being sent to the Tombs for the night if no crime was committed? I asked several times why couldn’t I take him home? “He has to go through the process.”
My heart sank as I thought about my son being held and carted around like a criminal. The officer brought him to the phone and allowed him to call me. I could see him in the holding cell because this particular precinct’s holding section has a lot of glass. I spoke to him and he could see me. I told him that I needed him to stay calm because I couldn’t take him home. I did everything I could not to cry because he could see me and I knew he would freak out. The officer told me that my son was more worried about me and how I was going to react than even being arrested. The officer gave him money and quarters so that he could keep in contact with me wherever they took him. I think they realized that the kid they profiled, was really just that…a kid. Even though he was scheduled to see the judge the next day, there was a small chance that he would have to go to Rikers if he wasn’t seen. The weekend was coming and the officer told me that people don’t stay in the Tombs during the weekend. I panicked.
Sleep was not an option. I waited for him to call me. I called the precinct to find out where he was. If he was okay. I was at court bright and early to find out more information. He wasn’t seen by the judge until almost 4:00 p.m. next day, and that was because I was pressing them to bring him upstairs. His legal aid initially refused to discuss the “details of the case” with me because according to the court, he is an adult and in full control of the situation. After one of my mom rants, she realized that I meant business and played her cards a little differently. Now that she saw that this case is BS at it’s finest, she helped us get the charges dismissed. When the judge saw the charges, which had been downgraded, she made a face, rolled her eyes, and redirected the case out of criminal court.
We still had to fight to have the charges dismissed because ultimately, no crime was committed. The court dates were pushed back further and further, keeping him in the system even longer. I could’ve paid $5,000 for a lawyer to make it all go away faster, but that’s all part of the hustle. This whole court system is a hustle. Keeping people in jail is a business. Everybody gets paid. If for any reason he gets stopped by the police at any given time, he can be arrested and held for even longer because he has alleged “pending charges.”
While I am still livid that this is even a situation we are dealing with, I am grateful because this could have gone very differently. Trayvon Martin had Skittles and a hoodie. Other young men were empty handed. My son was riding a Citibike and wearing the color of his skin. That was enough to make him a suspect to a crime he didn’t even commit.