If a Cop Kills My Son

A Vow Born of Rage and Sorrow

 'It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void the law.' —Psalm 119:126

I must have dozed off last Saturday with the radio set to 1010 WINS News. During my mid-day slumber, the gutsy street reporting of Lisa Evers, regarding the latest fatal shootings of young black men in Brooklyn, played out in my psyche in melodramatic bulletins. I remember hearing snippets of news about a robbery, toy guns that looked real, three suspects who got away, and soundbites from police brass calling the shootings of two allegedly armed teenagers by Operation Condor cops justifiable killings.

In and out of my snooze, I thought the police version of what happened could only bolster Rudy Giuliani's contention that his private Ton Ton Macoutes are all that stand between law-abiding New Yorkers and violent young African American men. With the breaking news on my mind, I fell into a deep sleep and my worst nightmare. I dreamed I was in the office of Father Edward Durkin, the principal of the Catholic school my 13-year-old son, Peter Jr., attends. I had come with tears welling in my eyes to tell Father Durkin that Little Peter, the taciturn, six-foot center on the school's basketball team, was one of the stickup kids involved in the Brooklyn robbery.

In my dream, Father Durkin put his arms around me and led this former altar boy in reciting the 14 Stations of the Cross. I woke up suddenly. Disoriented. Flailing my arms. Grasping. How could this happen? Little Peter, who wears a fake diamond stud earring in his left ear and is grooming a Kobe Bryant Afro, is not some street kid. Was he among the three suspects who got away? Had some trigger-happy cop shot and killed my boy? Why, in the name of the Father and of the Son, am I not on death row? My dream was incomplete.

In my family of West Indian immigrants, however, the women dream with horrifying accuracy. The night before an unarmed Patrick Dorismond was gunned down by an undercover cop, my mother left a message on my voice mail regarding my close relationship with Little Peter.

"Boy," she sobbed, almost choking, "I keep getting these bad dreams about you and Little Peter. I keep seeing you and him struggling. He's pulling away from you, but you keep crying out, 'My son! My son! I can't let you go!' "

Ma paused. But that only meant that she was perusing her blue, large-text Bible, the one that has the names of her six boys written all over her favorite chapters and stuffed in white prayer envelopes dipped in the special anointing oil some televangelist sold her.

"Peter!" she bawled, as if she sensed I was on the other end silently listening to her. "Peter Noel! You don't listen! I am warning you not to leave your job today without saying the 119th Psalm. Don't tell me, 'Ma, it's too long!' Read it! Son, this is your protection! It will guard you and that beautiful, big-eye boy!"

I read all 176 verses of the Psalm and called my mother. "You made a mistake, Ma," I said. "You always tell me to read the 70th Psalm. (The five verses of the 70th Psalm are short and to the point, but I always read the second verse: "Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt.") Ma cut me off. She said she'd figured out the dream that kept haunting her in the wake of the uproar over the Amadou Diallo verdict and the subsequent police killing of Malcolm Ferguson.

"Little Peter was trying to get away," she said. "He was frightened, and if he'd only run, if you'd only let go of him, the people—the big white people who was chasing him—would have caught him."

I felt my mother was holding something back. "Did Peter die in this dream?" I asked.

"It could be you. It could be him," she said. "Talk to Little Peter," she advised. "Tell him that Grandma Alice say, 'Never talk back to police! Don't fight! Don't struggle!' He's just like you, Peter Noel. He has your spirit."

I slumped back in my chair. I am afraid of my mother's dreams. In 1998, two days before my younger brother, Derrick, was fatally shot by a white cop in Montgomery County, Maryland, my mother had dreamed she was attending the wedding of one of her sons. "Marriage is death," she predicted. "This is bad news for somebody in the family." On the night of March 30, my brother Seaver called. A cop had killed Derrick. Two bullets to the back of his head, allegedly during a struggle over the cop's gun. Derrick was unarmed.

This reminiscence was broken when the phone rang. Ma again. This time she brought up the unpleasant subject of a spiritual struggle between Little Peter and me. In a West Indian ritual, when a "boy chile" is the "spitting image" of his father, the father must pay his son—put a dollar or more in his hand—or the son's spirit may wind up vanquishing the father's. "Pay the boy!" she demanded. "Ole people say that you killed your father because he never paid you. You look like him, walk like him, and talk like him—and you're just as pigheaded."

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