Image shows people holding protest signs. One sign says "Mr. policeman please don't kill my day, my child, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, etc. thank you." Another says, " the right to bear arms is a white privilege."
Photo by Tony Webster, Flickr CC

On April 18th, police officer Christopher Krickovich faced public criticism for rough handling a Black teenager at a local school. Similar incidents across the nation have compelled Black parents to talk to their children about how to navigate and survive police interactions. Most of these conversations use familiar high-profile cases involving Black men such as Michael Brown and Eric Gardner to illustrate the danger with police contact. Yet, Black girls and women have largely been neglected as targets of police brutality. In a recent study, Shannon Malone Gonzalez reveals that Black girls are not only left out of public discourse regarding police violence, but also the everyday “police talk” Black mothers use to teach Black children how to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

Gonzalez conducted interviews with 30 middle- and working-class Black mothers in an urban city. Each mother had one or more children between the ages of four and thirteen and 21 Black mothers had at least one daughter. During her interviews, Gonzalez asked Black mothers to reflect on their children’s racial and gendered vulnerabilities to police violence and how these perceptions of vulnerability informed police talk with their children.

Black mothers often utilized the “making it home” framework when discussing police with their children. Through double consciousness — understanding one’s own vulnerabilities through the lens of the dominant group — this framework teaches Black youth to be hyperaware of police stereotypes that reproduce notions of Black criminality. Mothers provide suggestions for how Black youth should interact with law enforcement to increase their chances of “making it home” safely. Black mothers believe these talks are vital for their children’s survival.

At the same time, Gonzalez points out that these talks marginalize the experiences of Black girls in three ways. First, Black mothers often categorized Black sons as the primary targets of police brutality and Black daughters as collateral targets or “secondary victims.” Even when asked about girls, several mothers turn their attention back to their sons. Second, these talks reinforce the idea that violence associated with masculinity, such as physical assault and shootings, are more important than verbal harassment or sexual violence — experiences that are more often linked to women’s experiences of police misconduct. The “making it home” narrative also treats the home as an inherently safe space, even though homes often function as a site of police violence for Black girls and women. Finally, mothers see police talk as crucial for boys’ socialization but optional for their daughters. Through her work, Gonzalez encourages us to make Black women’s and girls’ experiences with police more visible in our understandings of police-community relations.