I love Michael Brown, the fallen, “gentle giant” from Ferguson, Mo. I love all young men, a habit left over from raising three sons; big, loud, cocky; perilously full of life.
To this day, when I catch the smell of a musty, young man, just off the game field, the memories flood my mother-gallery; athletic shoes, sweaty bear hugs, self-effacing jokes.
Michael would have fit right nicely in my home with the other over-grown Tempe High School athletes who’d drop by and call me “mom.” They knew where the pool and frig were and often faced my wrath when they kept my sons out too late.
But, there was something I woulda’ taught Michael, had he been around my block. The same lesson I taught my boys and their friends: “Pay attention to whomever has the gun.” It’s a lesson every kid needs to learn from day one.
“The gun,” you ask? Yes, “the gun.”
Authority is “the gun.” By reason of their responsibility for children, parents hold the biggest gun. They wield the clout, can make or break a kid’s day. Family, teachers, pastors, coaches, employers and any others who have power over kid’s activities are “the gun.” Law enforcement are especially recognized for every logical reason. Mainly, they have physical weapons.
Teaching kids early who is in control, who runs the place, is the best growing-up gift. “Gun” is the perfect analogy. It carries the verbal punch that comes from getting cross-ways with gatekeepers. Tragically, in Michael’s case, the gun was literal and fatal.
Sometimes authority, even the best, act unfairly, but my kids knew that getting cross-ways with the gun, then whining about it, is not allowed. Man is not perfect. The best bet, for a kid as well as adult is recognition, then respect for authority or be prepared to get bruised, such as fired from a job, flunked from a class or, yes, perhaps, shot dead.
In our home of rambunctious boys, that theme was the drum beat with this caveat: Don’t be stupid. Only challenge the gun with forethought and reasonable caution.
My kids learned with age, their parent’s gun got bigger, as curfew and car keys came into play. When penalties for poor behavior were issued, their whining only netted reminders, “They had earned their consequences.”
But, again. Some guns are literal. That’s when deference is extra important. My youngest son, at age 16, learned first-hand about law enforcement authority. His truck had been misidentified in a kidnapping. Numerous officers, many in unmarked vehicles, staked out our Tempe home and the truck in the driveway. As Troy tried to drive away to a basketball practice, he was blocked and roughly ordered out. They were not gentle, verbally or physically. He later spoke of terror, “I thought they were going to shoot me.”
After the misidentification was cleared up, the officers thanked him for doing “exactly” what he was ordered. They said, “We could easily have shot you. We thought you had kidnapped a baby in a domestic dispute.” Today, this son speaks with respect for those officers.
Unfortunately, Michael didn’t understand the system of the gun nor the folly of bravado around it. Warning: Under drug and alcohol influence, youth tend to forget about the gun.
He didn’t understand officer’s self-preservation instincts, which merge with life-saving training. Again, officers are human, too. Thus, a child learning respect for human-nature is a biggie.
Yes. I love Michael Brown. He was a victim of ignorance, of lies and race-hustlers. He’d not learned the value of personal responsibility, nor the critical importance of respecting the same authorities all citizens; white, brown and black, are called to defer to, in a civilized society.
He went against authority that night and destroyed more than himself when the gun, with a weapon, settled the matter by instinct or irrational response.
Always, everyday authority is in need of refinement, from parents to police, which is why a justice system, the higher authority, is called into mediate. But, it’s not possible for it to remove the system of the gun, an imperfect system, which has always ruled mankind.
• East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen is a syndicated columnist and former veteran Phoenix TV anchor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.