Addressing Police Brutality With Youth: A Book Review on Momma, Did You Hear the News?

Ok, so where do I begin with the shortest, yet heaviest book I’ve ever read? Let’s begin with a brief synopsis.  Momma, Did You Hear the News is a children’s book about a ten year old boy, Avery, who has become frantic after hearing and watching stories on the news about the murders of unarmed Black men by police. His parents decide to have “the talk” with Avery and his brother about what to do if they are ever confronted by the police.  To help their sons remember the important steps they’ve asked them to do, the parents introduce the rhyme or song, Memorize the Five–Stay ALIVE!  Each letter in ALIVE stands for a different action the parents want their sons to always remember if ever pulled over by the cops.  Do you see, now, why my heart is so heavy?

After only reading the first few pages of this book, the tears started falling quick! As I watched my 5 and 3 year old boys running around pretending to put out forest fires, I couldn’t help but think how unfair it is that one day sooner than I would like, my husband and I will have to sit down and have “the talk”. A talk that will shatter their innocence while other people’s children get to continue childhood as normal.  In some ways, we’ve begun to scaffold our “talk” when I sat them down last summer and explained why it was important they not play with water guns or any toy guns out in public spaces (I’m not a fan of toy guns to begin with, but water guns during the summer are hard to resist, especially when abuela, or grandma, is the main supplier.).

I’m not typically an anxious, worried, or paranoid individual.  In fact, as I’ve gotten older, my motto has become to accept fear as a natural feeling, but to not allow yourself to live in it too long as it will become a magnet to the very things you are fearful of.  I tell ya, as a mother, it’s a hard motto to live by! However,  I really do believe this in my heart.  Having conversations with your Black children about police is nerve wrecking, but for Black and Brown families, it’s necessary.

In June 2017, three Black teens were handcuffed for selling water on the National Mall.

Studies have shown that Black boys as young as 5 years old are more likely to be perceived as a threat in comparison to White children, and Black girls are often seen older than what they are leading adults to treat them in harsher ways.  National disciplinary data shows us that “Black students are far more likely to be harshly disciplined at school than students of other races who commit the same infractions”.   Last year a poll demonstrated that “nearly a quarter of young Black people say they’ve been harassed by police”.  My husband and his friends’ police encounters began as early as middle school. They were walking home from the park when a cop car told them to get in because they fit the profile of a young, Black suspect.  In high school, they were pulled over by several cop cars with blinding lights flashing in their rear view mirror all because they were driving in a wealthy neighborhood that had recently experienced several burglaries. Today, at almost 40, my husband avoids the easy way home after dark because he has been pulled over too many times to be questioned where he is going.  While my husband never had anything happen to him physically, the constant assumption of guilt or suspicion made by law enforcement based on the color of his skin has chipped away any ounce of trust he may have had for them and only reaffirmed his father’s warnings as a youngster. This is an unfortunate and unjust truth I have to contend with for my family.  It pains me.  It chokes me up.  It angers me.  It is a reality that, if not addressed, can cost my children’s lives.

So, while I don’t believe swallowing in fear is healthy, avoiding our fears is just as bad.   My husband and I agree that our young boys are not ready for “the talk” just yet.  But when it’s time, I’m thankful for the thought and care Sanya Whittaker Gragg put into creating a book that can be used as a tool to initiate such a difficult conversation that many young people are not ready to grapple with as well as their parents.  I highly recommend this book for parents, educators, social workers, or anyone working with young people.  Even if your students or kids are White, they need to know the truth many of their Black friends or family members have to face in a world where we should be training police not to react with deadly force towards people of color rather than having to teach our Black and Brown youth how to deal with law enforcement. Truth hurts, but ignorance is deadly.

(Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in anyway.)