Rachel L. Swarns: Black Mother, White Father, a Baby and a Badge
I have a black son in Baltimore
(A) BALTIMORE - He assembled the crib and mounted the bookshelves. She unpacked the bedding and filled the closet. Then husband and wife stood in the nursery and worried. Bill Janu, a police officer, is white. Shanna Janu, a lawyer, is black. As they eagerly awaited their baby’s birth this spring, they felt increasingly anxious, since their nearly two years of marriage had been punctuated by the killings of
African-American men and boys in Ferguson, Brooklyn, Cleveland, North Charleston and Baltimore, all at the hands of the police. Mr. Janu, who longed for a son, tried to reassure his wife. Mrs. Janu emailed him one article after another, warning of the perils that face black boys.
(B) As the due date approached, Mr. Janu found himself praying for a girl. In the delivery room at St. Agnes Hospital, after more than 20 hours of labor, the infant finally arrived, red-faced and wailing with Mr.
Janu’s blue eyes and Mrs. Janu’s full lips and nose. The new father exulted. Then he felt the weight of his new reality. “Now, I have a black son in Baltimore,” the white police detective remembered thinking as he cradled his baby boy. Wesley William Janu, born on May 23, 2016, smiled for the first time during a summer bloodied by the worst confrontations between African-Americans and the police in decades.
(C) They know their son is taking his place in the world at a time of promise and unease. Wesley will learn
to sit up on his own during the final term of the nation’s first African-American president. By the time he is 28, more than half of the population in the United States will very likely be members of ethnic or racial minority groups or mixed race, according to the Census Bureau.
(D) Mrs. Janu, born in Louisiana, grew up in a predominantly white suburb in upstate New York, and married a white detective. Yet these days, she fears that racism and bias might be “hard-wired” into
society and wonders how that might affect her family. She worries as her husband holsters his firearm, kisses her goodbye and heads out the door to pursue violent criminals in this predominantly black city. Will he be a target now on the street?
(E) Sometimes, the Janus manage to put that aside, losing themselves in the cocoon of their two-story home. They focus on Wesley - Mr. Janu calls him “Little Man” - on the grip of his fingers, the pout of his
lower lip, the way he scales tall buildings with his eyes. But this summer, the ugliness of the outside world has always seemed to intrude.
(F) One day, Mr. Janu called to tell her that his squad was bracing for protests. “There’s going to be rioting - is that what you’re saying?” asked Mrs. Janu, her phone tight to her ear, as she bounced Wesley on her hip. This city remained calm. But this month, the fires were burning in Milwaukee. And the Justice
Department released a scathing report, accusing the Baltimore police of systematically stopping, searching and arresting black residents for minor offenses, or even without any cause at all.
(G) Wesley is blithely unaware of the tumult. But his parents have already begun preparing what to tell him, when the time comes. Don’t do things that bring too much attention to yourself, even if your white friends are doing it. You can’t go running around in a hoodie. Don’t run into someone’s yard and grab a
ball. If a police officer tells you to do something, just do it. Mrs. Janu considers herself the practical parent, but the list fills her with sadness. “Black boys aren’t allowed to be innocent or young,” she said.
(H) Mr. Janu felt bewildered at first by such talk. He had never imagined such a discussion with his son. “You wouldn’t have to explain that to a white child,” he said. He said he had lived most of his life “with blinders on.” His conversations with his wife have opened his eyes. In the past, Mr. Janu said, he often
assumed that the black boys he saw on impoverished street corners were criminals-to-be, youngsters destined for handcuffs. Now, he looks for the exuberance in the faces of the wisecracking, jostling boys still savoring the waning days of summer. He hopes that other police officers will see that, too, someday, in his son.
Aus: Rachel L. Swarns: Black Mother, White Father, a Baby and a Badge., New York Times, 2016-08-24