Parents of black male children in the United States are nervous and worried. And so is Bryan Monroe, the CNN's Washington Opinion Editor and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. They all are in desperate quest for means to keep their children away from getting arrested.
Bryan Monroe too is a black, US citizen and father of a growing male child of twelve. The cause of their agony is an appalling fact of America's social life.
A recent study has revealed that almost fifty per cent of the black males in the United States get arrested before they reach the age of 23. The study, undertaken by the University of South Carolina and the University of Albany, reveals that nearly one in two black males get arrested and often on assumed and minor charges — jeopardising their future once and for all.
This appalling story does not end here. Sixteen per cent of the black females run the risk of getting arrested on some charges or the other by the time they reach twenty-three. Sordid are the further details, the study has revealed. "For white males, there is almost a 40 per cent chance they will have been arrested by 23. For Latino males, its 44 per cent. Females fare slightly better. By age 23, arrest rates were 20 per cent for white females and 18 per cent for Latinas."
Critics of the study have been more than active to denounce the findings since the report was published in the journal Crime and Delinquency last month. They have been claiming that the methodology adopted to conduct the study was flawed. May be it was but still a question remains which cannot be wished away. Is the United States turning into a police state?
On an average, over thirty seven per cent of the Americans, irrespective of their race, experience a traumatic experience of transition from youth to adulthood, face terrible difficulties in finding employment and find it ominously thorny to organise their life and living. Pithily, a social collapse looms large on the country.
The revelation has shocked the entire country and angered its people. "Obviously, there's some legitimacy to some of these arrests, but common sense should tell you that a great deal of racial profiling and victimisation is happening. I refuse to believe that half of all black males are criminals. It's nonsensical," was the livid response of an angry American father.
To look into the issue from the point of view of race would probably be wrong or an effort to read too much between the lines. In fact, the issue do not reflect racism but is certainly a very serious matter which is perceptibly leading the American society towards a catastrophe.
Monroe has put the looming catastrophe very succinctly. Can you imagine the impact of your young son — or grandson, or nephew, or cousin or brother — having to look down the barrel of a police officer's gun, or having his wrists forcibly twisted behind his back and handcuffed in public? And, in many cases, all before he is old enough to vote. Or drive. Or get a job.
Can you imagine how that young boy will grow up to be a man? Can you imagine his feelings toward the police — many of whom are trying as hard as they can to keep the streets safe — who put those handcuffs on him? Will he trust them? Will he respect them? Or will he fear them?
Now, can you imagine the difficulties when that same young man goes to get a job? Many employers ask you at the end of that job application form whether you have ever been arrested. These kids will forever have to check the 'Yes' box, hoping they get the chance to explain away the circumstances later. But we know most will never make it to the first interview.
Americans, most so the blacks, are living in a state of constant fear of getting arrested. Their parents are spending sleepless nights to keep their children away from streets to ensure they do not become one of those fifty per cent who get arrested before 23 years of age. The parents are spending sleepless nights to ensure their children never have to tick the 'Yes' box and live with unemployment.
These petrified parents are angry because they never thought that in a democracy like the United States they would have to remain vigilant so that police never lock up their children and stigmatise them forever.
We know that most of these parents have taken a rather unusual new year resolution. They have resolved not to let the American police to lay their hands on their children come what may.
These unfortunate parents, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, have much more to think about their sons and daughters, especially if they are black. They are too preoccupied to tell their children how not to land up in jails and police stations. They, in the process, turn out to be bundles of nerves, paranoid and jittery unable to devote time and energy to plan for their children.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.