If a Cop Kills My Son

A Vow Born of Rage and Sorrow

Despite our strong resemblance, I don't believe Little Peter's spirit would kill mine so that he could live. If anything, I would be the one to give my life for him. I told Ma that the recent killings of young, unarmed black men by police have crept into her dreams and my own fears.

"Peter might die before me," I said. "What if a cop killed him?"

"What can you do?" she asked angrily.

"Ma, you'd have to bury me," I replied.

"Killing yourself is not the answer," she shot back.

"It's homicide I'm talking about, Ma. The 'Vengeance of Moko' [a West Indian phrase meaning all-out revenge against your tormentor] will fall on him. I'll beg God to forgive me, and kill the cop who killed my son."

"Did I kill anybody when Derrick died?" she asked. "Look at those African people [Amadou Diallo's parents]; are they talking about killing and killing and shooting the police who killed their son? You're crazy if you start thinking like that."

Maybe I had gone over the edge, I thought later. But it was a vow born of rage and sorrow. There are thousands of black fathers like me who are having the same thoughts and dreams—not from feelings of retribution, but out of a desperation born of the belief that justice for them and their sons is impossible in Rudy Giuliani's New York.

William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs, the authors of the book Black Rage, say we can't be blamed for such "copicidal" fantasies. "Black people, to a degree that approaches paranoia, must be ever alert to danger from their white fellow citizens," they write. "It is a cultural phenomenon peculiar to black Americans. And it is a posture so close to paranoid thinking that the mental disorder into which black people most frequently fall is paranoid psychosis. Can we say that white men have driven black men mad?"

On the afternoon of March 16, I learned that Patrick Dorismond, a Haitian American on his way home to Brooklyn from his job as a security guard in Manhattan, had been shot to death by an undercover narcotics officer after he quarreled and struggled with the cop. Dorismond, 26, had rebuffed the undercover, who tried to entrap him into telling him where to buy marijuana. Another young black man had died, and I lashed out in anger. It could have been Peter, I said on the several talk shows to which I subsequently was invited to comment about, as Grier and Cobbs put it, "the depth of the grief for slain sons."

Except for my mother, and Paula, Little Peter's Mom, I had never told anyone about the rage that I feel would overwhelm me if a cop unjustifiably murdered my son. But last Thursday, after a white man almost drove me mad, my secret got out.

During a heated debate with New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy on The Alan Colmes Show on WEVD radio, Colmes questioned the decency of demonstrators at Patrick Dorismond's funeral who carried posters declaring: "IF MY SON WERE KILLED BY THE COPS, I'D GO AFTER MAYOR GIULIANI'S SON." Colmes said the signs threatened the life of the mayor's 14-year-old son, Andrew. I responded, and, in the ensuing acrimonious exchange, bared a black father's pent-up rage.

"I have a 13-year-old son, and any police officer who kills my son, he's dead! Period!" I bellowed. "I'm going after him! That's how I feel! I'm not waiting for this system to give up any justice. I am going after that police officer! . . . If a police officer kills my son in this city, I am not waiting for Rudy Giuliani to do anything. I'm going after that cop. I'm just as dead!"

Dunleavy argued that I had created an implausible scenario—that he could not imagine my son being shot by a cop. But then he turned. "[L]et's talk about circumstances," he said. "You've come outright and [said] if any cop killed your son, the cop's dead. What would happen if that 15-year-old son of yours—which I'm sure would not happen—had a gun in his hand, was shooting at a cop?"

"No! No! No!" I replied. "My son will not have a gun in his hand. I'm gonna tell you like it is. I raise my son with proper values, okay? My son is an endangered species when he walks outside. Your son is not an endangered species. . . if you have sons. . . . You don't understand the black experience in this city at all! Whenever my son or my daughter, who is 19 years old, step out of their apartment in this city, I don't know if they're gonna come back home because some police officer might mistake their cell phone, might mistake their wallet, or their set of keys, for a gun, and then shoot them down because he profiles them! You don't understand that experience, Steve, because you don't live it! You live in your own nice world where . . . you protect the status quo, protect people like Rudy Giuliani."

Just as I felt Dunleavy might be sympathizing a bit with what I had to say, he began to question my standards. "You keep on talking about how you bring up your children with proper values, and they wouldn't have a gun in their hand, and I quite agree with you. I'm sure they wouldn't. . . . But if you say you bring your children up with proper values and you talk like this, I think you better readjust what you call values."

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