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We’re raising sons, not angels

If I told you everything I did as a teenager, you would know … I was no angel. 

I drank alcohol, jaywalked, dabbled in drugs, drove fast, drove drunk, dined and dashed, jumped into other people’s pools without permission, knocked over mailboxes, threw eggs at my neighbors’ houses, cheated on tests, had sex before marriage, ran away from home, stole money, shoplifted a little gold ring once. 

There’s more, but I’m not sure when the statute of limitations runs out, so we’ll leave it at that. 

The point is, I grew up. I learned from my mistakes. I became a better person. My guess is that you did, too. 

Michael Brown never got that chance. Neither did Trayvon Martin. Or Sean Bell.

When I saw their three moms grieving together on CNN this week, I thought about the dichotomy of childhood and how unfair it is that a mom has to explain the obvious double-sided nature of growing up to the rest of the world. 

How does a child look sweet-faced and innocent in one photo then turn around and look like a bad ass in another? Babies one minute, rebels without a cause the next?

The same way we did.

The difference is that nobody met our transgressions with a gun. In our neighborhoods, if a kid got caught doing something wrong, most parents tried to work it out with authorities. More often than not, you were given the benefit of the doubt because you were … a kid.

“Good kids” doing something “stupid” – isn’t that the same excuse given for the seven college-bound kids who broke into Miami Heat guard Ray Allen’s Coral Gables home earlier this month and escaped trespassing charges until Allen cried foul? 

Good kids? Or criminals and thugs? Who decides?

In poor, black neighborhoods like Brown’s, there are no second chances. There are no kids. Instead, there is fear, an assumption of guilt and a policeman eager to pull judgment with his trigger.

Why should a mom have to suffer through the death of her child only to see him assassinated again by having his still-evolving moral character questioned? 

"I have always said that Trayvon was not perfect,” Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, writes in an open letter to Michael Brown’s mother in Time magazine. “But no one will ever convince me that my son deserved to be stalked and murdered. No one can convince you that Michael deserved to be executed."

The New York Times spent Monday apologizing for an “ill-chosen phrase” in a front-page profile of Brown that claimed the 18-year-old was “no angel.” The reporter, John Eligon, is a 31-year-old black man who says he himself has experienced racial profiling by police for “looking suspicious.” A #noangel movement on Twitter accused the paper of labeling Brown a bad kid or, worse, someone who deserved to die.

Eligon, whose story was largely positive about Brown, says he was only trying to portray the young man as “human.” 

Did we forget? 

Who cares if Michael Brown stole a box of cigars or not? Who cares if Trayvon Martin smoked pot? (One crackpot website claims that “leaked pics” of Michael Brown show him to be a true thug because he’s always “giving the camera the finger or sitting with someone who is.”)

Fortunately for me – and millions of others who are skilled with our middle fingers, including my 14-year-old daughter – those offenses do not carry a death sentence.

There are no angels or demons. Just kids who deserve a chance to grow up.