The Kickback from a Toy Pistol
We live in a country where carrying a toy gun while being brown or black or even just ethnically ambiguous can get you murdered by law enforcement, with impunity.
As the daughter of a Mexican-American police officer in South Texas, I grew up alongside a loaded 9MM on the kitchen counter for years. I respected that weapon and hardly even looked at it. I knew she carried a loaded weapon at all times in her fake Gucci handbags, specially designed with hidden pockets for her weapon and badge. My mom would leave her gun belt and all the lovely accessories [handcuffs, baton, mace] still attached and sometimes recently used. I saw this every morning as I got ready for high school and my mother got ready for bed after her usual graveyard shift. I watched as every Fourth of July, our garage filled up with the confiscated contraband of poor, working class people (mostly Mexican-Americans) who made the mistake of enjoying a little pyrotechnics inside the city limits. I would ask my mother, “Oh, where did you get all this stuff?” She would lie to my face, insisting she “found” them during her shift or another officer just “gave” her some extra bottle rockets [over 50, I counted once].
So, fast forward about 20 years. My mom is retired and I now have two little boys, ages 5 and 3. She still lives in South Texas, but I moved far away. I now live with my family in a peaceful, small town on the North Shore of Boston.
Imagine my trepidation when the 5 year old decided he wanted to be a police officer for Halloween. I didn’t care about the uniform. What I couldn’t handle was the accessories. Two black plastic handguns [made in China] that looked too much like the real thing and made agitating, crackling sounds to enhance the effect.
Sure, they had stickers and neon orange scopes, but a cop isn’t looking at that when they pull you over. They are looking at your face, your demeanor and your potential to harm them. All this in the first five seconds and they’re not going to second guess themselves. Ever. If any cop pulled us over and spotted a gun on the floor mat, it would cause chaos. It happens frequently that cops shoot first and ask questions later. Anyone they pull over could be a killer, no matter if there’s a child in the backseat. Ask Philando Castile’s girlfriend.
In the year 2016, as a mother of two little boys that look ethnically ambiguous [are they Puerto Rican? Mexican? Both? They are actually Mexican American and Native American] I almost had a mini stroke when I saw my 5 year old pointing a plastic gun out the window as we drove away from our house. A tiny newsreel played through my mind; Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, excerpts from the book “Citizen” and then a shocking loop of the phrase “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” It took all my inner strength to keep from just jerking the steering wheel and taking control of the car to get us off the road and back to safety. I wanted to throw that gun out the window. I wanted to burn every plastic gun ever made; no matter the toxic, death plume that emerged.
Instead, I got into an intense argument with my husband about the stupid gun, the state of America and it’s police force, and why it was absolutely irresponsible to let our kids point guns out the window of a moving vehicle. All this while the 5 year old howled like a wounded wolf in the car seat. My husband finally conceded but, in a huff, refused to drive back to the house. Instead, he walked back with the gun, looking a bit like some suburban dad gone mad. Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” circa 1993 comes to mind. The tagline for the movie reads, “The Adventure of an Ordinary Man at War with the Everyday World.”
He thought I was being ridiculous, melodramatic and just completely overreacting. He said we would never get pulled over and there’s absolutely no reason to worry about this. It’s a non-issue. I was livid but suddenly felt a twinge of guilt as my son cried hot tears of anger and frustration.
Sure, my husband made sense, but my emotional brain said racial profiling and driving while brown was still dangerous and still a risk. No matter if you were in downtown Philly or the outskirts of Boston. In fact, once I write that, the outskirts of Boston sounds much more nefarious for a Mexican-American.
I’m not going to make guns verboten in my house. The boys can play with them and I’ve seen plenty of girls and boys, forbidden to play with guns, end up using “L” shaped twigs or just their little soft hands to convey the same violent ends. I will let them play with fire, I will let them throw knives in the woods, and honestly, when they’re older I will take them to a shooting range and let them enjoy the happiness of a warm gun. But for now, and forever, if they insist on guns in the car, I refuse to go down that road.
It could be a dead end.