I can’t remember when I heard a sound more harrowing than the piercing scream of a 10-year-old boy reacting to pepper spray in his eyes.
The boy, named Taye, was participating in a street action by a group called Black Liberation Project when he was pepper-sprayed by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Video shot by a bystander shows a shaky jumble of bodies, cars and voices, and, about two minutes in, the terrifying screams of a child in pain. As a parent of two children myself, I had to stop watching; Taye’s panicked, high-pitched howling was too much to bear.
Even non-parents must be horrified by the sound of a young boy enduring a form of violence that brings fully grown people to their knees. So why is Susan Montgomery, Taye’s mother, being smeared all over the Web for what happened to her son? Why is the president-elect of the police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, implying to the media that Taye had no right to be there?
Montgomery brought her child to a protest that occurred in downtown Minneapolis, at night, where “f--- the police” was chanted and a flag was burned. This might not be my idea of a fun night out, but I am not the mother of an African-American male: I do not fear that my 15-year-old son could be shot dead for playing with his Nerf weapons at a nearby park. My reckless, foolhardy, white teenager is not subject to the same harsh profiling and discrimination that Taye will endure.
Millions of people around the world heard Eric Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe.” Now we can hear Taye screaming in pain and confusion. No less a body than the United Nations Council on Human Rights has slammed the United States for its record on police brutality, but somehow Susan Montgomery is the problem? That she is being vilified for allowing her child to participate in a public protest is one more sign that our country and community need to reorganize their priorities.
My son’s life is not at stake, but Susan Montgomery’s son’s is. If I were in her shoes, I would consider active participation in Black Lives Matter as essential to his education as learning about right triangles, invertebrates and the capitol of Bulgaria.
In fact, if I were raising an African-American child in 21st-century America, I would want that child to know that he has a voice, and that he can use it. I would encourage his activism, not squelch it. I can think of no better way to connect deeply and emotionally with a child than to teach him, in both words and action, that he matters.
Put that way, Susan Montgomery is a fine mother, indeed.
Shannon Drury is a columnist for the Minnesota Women’s Press and the author of the recently released memoir “The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century.”