It was a sunny stroll to the neighborhood park

It was a sunny stroll to the neighborhood park
                        

The coffee was sweet, laden with sugar as is the only proper Spanish way, and I sipped with tension as I listened to the story the man was telling us. His tongue and tone lilted gently, in the way that is easy for me to understand.

In front of me sat a large bowl of my favorite soup of Mexican origin, flavorful chunks of slow-cooked pork and large kernels of hominy simmered together with a chile base to make pozole. Top with sliced radishes, lettuce, onion and oregano; bring spoon to mouth; and close eyes in wonder as it trails down your throat.

More than the meal we were sharing with friends were the words he was speaking to us, weaving a tale that has so often led me to despair, a tale of faces that seek the more that is used when talking about the place we reside in, now only soft toward what lies within.

A single mother, pushing a stroller down almost sun-warmed sidewalks toward a park, 1-year-old child peeking out from underneath. I smile at all mothers pushing their babies toward whatever destination they’re heading for, managing for small minutes to condense their day into joyful things: a walk through the park, a push toward the heavens as the swing creaks with their weight, shoes that stay tied as they totter.

I know the monumental effort it takes just to leave the house.

We all know what happens in our neighborhoods when cars exit and enter driveways, who’s on vacation and who is home for the evening, when they have company or when a strange car is parked outside. I know these things because I live in my home, inhabit it, and if I see something off kilter outside my window, I know to be on alert. This is common.

What is uncommon is to look outside your window, pick up the phone, and call the police to come and investigate a young mother pushing her stroller down the street.

A neighbor, your neighbor. What is uncommon is for them to come and stop the mother, telling her that someone called to report she didn’t have her baby buckled in properly. Her baby — buckled into the stroller properly.

What is uncommon, or maybe not so much anymore, is to have this report made because of what the mother looked like. She looked different to the caller, so she must be doing something wrong.

Some nine years ago a state to our far west put into action a law that would enable law enforcement to stop any person on the street without proper I.D. or people in a car that looked suspicious.

If you define the word “suspicious,” you come up with the definition “causing one to have the idea or impression that something or someone is of questionable, dishonest or dangerous character or condition.”

Our youngest two children were set to fly with their youth group to this state to take part in the Mennonite Convention. Most parents will never have to sit down and have a conversation with their family to discuss whether it’s safe for their kids to go somewhere because they might be stopped on the street by their looks: black hair, olive skin, everything that makes them who they innately are. And that if they didn’t have their I.D. to prove who they were, they could be taken into custody, based solely on their appearance.

As humans we cannot change how we look. And we as parents, who taught our kids to be proud of who they are (no matter laws that allow for racial profiling), let them go on the trip. We set aside our fears.

Until your children or family are stopped or pulled over because of who they intrinsically are (skin color, hair color, the features on their face), you won’t want to know how this story goes and tuck away any extension of mercy we’re meant to give. Because mostly, these days, mercy is reserved for those who do things the right way, as well as look the right way.

The single mother was given a citation for not having her baby buckled in properly and given a date to appear in court.

I’ve yet to learn what happened. If she looked like me, she would’ve been let go with a warning. Then again, if she looked like me, her neighbor wouldn’t have called to report her for taking a walk in the warm sun with her baby. Because if you think it’s about stroller safety, you might want to read between the lines.


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