The Police, Prison and My Lil' Cy

I was telling Beth about our friend Shawn. For a couple days, I had been trying to find out where he had been hospitalized and I had just discovered where he was; I tell her how bad Shawn's condition is; he needed a blood transfusion; he's floating in and out of consciousness and is currently hooked up to machines in the ICU. I tell her of my plans to visit him "tomorrow", and how, in visiting, we'll probably have to wear special protective garments and masks.

After grieving about how rapid his decline has been, Beth asks, "is someone going with you?"

"Abdul says he really wants to come, I'll take him along"

"I thought you said he was in jail?"

"yeah I did, but they released him after just a couple hours, the police picked him up for selling cigarettes. That's the risk he takes!"

A little inquisitive mind had listened to our conversation. Cyrus, with his 8 year old ideology, looks up from his educational computer game and simply asks, "who's in jail?"

We look at Cy. He had that look. The look that says, "oh no! What's my ol' man doing? Why's he hanging out with a guy who's just been locked up? Jail is for bad people, evil people, mean people and people who hurt others. I don't want my daddy-o hanging with some dangerous psychopath like that". It's a black and white world to my lil' Cyrus; police are good, prisoners are bad! The world is divided between the two and there is no in-between. As he sits there trying to calculate his numbers, he's become very worried about his daddy.

Cyrus actually knows both Abdul and Shawn, even though he can't visualize them from where he sits. They give him five, pretend to punch him in the belly, yell out his name across Wilson, bring him french fries and rub the top of his head. Shawn knows Cyrus as a "crunchy cereal guy", while he likes his soggy. Abdul likes to crouch behind his girlfriend, sneak up behind Cy and embrace him with a great big bear hug. They've both known my lil' Cy-guy ever since he was a baby. They both remember the day he was born!

My children live in a mysterious world. They're caught between reality and fantasy. Caught between fact and fiction. Caught between where we live and where we work. These worlds are opposing realities and constantly clash. These worlds confuse their young innocent minds.

The stories Cyrus reads, the movies he watches and the games he plays, all promote a world painted only in black and white. For Cyrus, it's very easy to define; the good guys are heroes who always win, while the bad dudes are evil who end up in jail or are killed by the faultless heroes. It's as plain and simple as that; it's that classic world of the games I used to run around the house playing when I was only 8; "Cops and Robbers" or "Cowboys and Indians", where the robbers ended up in an imaginary jail and the native Americans were left lying on the ground, splattered with imaginary bullet holes. Their bows and arrows were always overpowered by the brutality of the imagery gun. As a youngster, my inner revolutionary spirit begged to be released, because I personally negated the status-quo and thrived to stand tall with our native brothers and sisters.

That was then. Today's kids live more in the fantasy life of bionicles, Harry Potter and pokemon. But, the gist is generally the same; one side is good, and the other is wicked needing to be punished. Remarkably, in this world, the good always triumphs!

As we all know, reality screams a completely different story. I live in the mixture of two vastly different worlds; I was brought up waving to unknown officer friendly. That's also how my children, and my neighbors kids, visualize the police; as the bold courageous servers and protectors of our 'hood. Cyrus and Muriwai could never imagine corrupt cops or a crooked system. Our kids have never seen Beth or I cuffed, frisked or verbally assaulted by these uniformed men and women. They've never seen their mama or papa disappear for days, months or even years, having to visit them locked up in a cage, peering through extremely thick glass and having to shout through little holes. They've never had to watch a gun toting prison guard yell "times up" and then escort their cuffed daddy through those loud clunking doors with tears running down his cheeks. They've never seen our door busted down. They've never seen us threatened with tazers or seen a gun pointed at us. A couple of those things have actually happened to us, but thankfully Cyrus or Muriwai have never had to witness it. I hate to say it; many children regularly experience these horrible traumatic things and I work with a lot of them. These children live only minutes away, right down the street at the shelter.

These children live in and experience a completely different reality. Unknown Officer friendly's name and face has changed to Officer grumpy, Officer bully or maybe even Officer gangster. Cops are seen as gun slinging bullies who break up their families and shatter their dreams. If lost, these children would never think of running to the police to help find their missing mother. To some of these kids, the police may be downright scary or power hungry thugs. To many children and adults, the CPD is viewed as Chicago's biggest and most powerful gang. Their world does not allow them to live in the idealistic black and white world of Cyrus and his buddies. Their world is muddled by a lot of shades of gray. To these children, good and bad is not as easily defined as a well read comicbook. 

People may read this and feel my thoughts are too liberal and vastly exaggerated. People may feel I am using too many generalizations. People may think that the picture I have just painted is too black and white. I personally don't think so and here's why.....

Over the past 15 years, my reality has changed from just *seeing* cops drive by, to personally *knowing* the officers who motor around my neighborhood. We acknowledge each other with waves, nods and the occasional discussion. The unknown has become known. Throughout these years, I've seen horrible abuses of power, but I've also witnessed cops going the extra mile to truly help the downtrodden. I've seen them pull suicidal George's t-shirt over his head, pull the chair out from underneath him and drag him down 4 flights of stairs saying expletives, yet I've also seen them compassionately bring us depressed drunken Donald, seeking his recovery. I've seen the 911 respondents yell at a 12 year old boy to "walk"; this boy has sickle cell anemia and I had just carried him inside because he was physically too weak to walk on his own, yet they dragged this poor boy to the ambulance with his devastated mother hollering in the background. But a day later, I saw them compassionately bring us a cold, wet mother with her 4 children, desperately trying to help them find shelter. I've witnessed them pick up an extremely intoxicated passed out homeless man and instead of delivering him to the ER, they dropped him off by the lake in the middle of a very snowy winter night, yet I've seen countless displays of compassion for Uptown's local alcoholics by these same men and women. I could go on with stories of broken noses, sexual harassment and verbal diarrhea, mixed in with wonderful stories of rescue, compassion and redemption. 

That's the life of a cop; nothing's black and white, it's a muddled pool of gray murkiness. These men and women are not "straight-up" evil or "straight-up" good. They're emotional humans beings, making good and bad decisions, having good and bad days and dealing with some infuriating situations. Really, the truth is, it's just like me or you, trying to react and respond correctly to a world filled with pain and injustice. It's all about judgment calls. The truth is, I'm guilty too and must continually repent of many of my own reactions, because I have misused my power, over or under reacted and responded too many times out of my own anger or fear. 

Another factor to look at; the police are bound by the law they are told to uphold, even if they ethically disagree with it. They, like us, can easily become robotic slaves to their system. A mob or group of individuals is a powerful entity, it can cause or influence good people to make bad decisions and do atrocious things. What do I mean? Look at this present movement, Occupy Wall Street, do I think all the NYPD cops took pleasure in pepper spraying and arresting peaceful protesters? No, not at all. I believe many of those cops realized these protesters are actually fighting for them, but because they got caught up in the moment, by the system and by the mob, they used inexcusable brutality. I believe a few of them went to bed that night full of regrets, because they didn't listen to their consciences or convictions!

Now, after this slight diversion, it's time to get back to my boy Cyrus.....

Try explaining the grayness of this world to a boy so conditioned to the safety net of 'black and white', it's downright difficult. What we're talking about is an adult selling cigarettes to other adults, and then being scooped up the police in cuffs. Cyrus, in all his innocence, would naturally think it's because tobacco is a dangerous substance; but we all know it ain't that! It's simply because he doesn't have a vendor license. He's homeless and unable to get a job, he doesn't want to and refuses to sell drugs, so in search for the elusive dollar he sells "squares" at a busy intersection. Loose cigarettes remarkably is a thriving and competitive business. Try explaining the justice of "the system" to an eight year old! It's not easy.

I want my boy to see Abdul for who is; a compassionate caring charismatic individual, not some dangerous criminalized thug. When Cyrus and Abdul see each other on the street, all stereotypes society wants them to live by, simply vanish. They automatically become friends or pals. Cyrus doesn't know he's the one Beth and I candidly spoke about over his head. When we approach, Abdul smiles and reveals his missing tooth, yells out my son's name and holds out his fist for lil' Cy to gently nudge.


Cyrus displays the radical innocence of children. They connect, they smile, they chat and enjoy a brief moment of fellowship. Prejudice is put aside, in fact it is non-existent. We, as a family, often go for walks throughout the neighborhood. Cyrus and Muriwai instantly have celebrity status amongst the homeless population. Phrases like "Hey big guy!" and "Hey Beautiful" echo throughout their heads. But, my kids don't care that the men and women we're chatting with may be homeless, felons, mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts, gangsters or a host of other undesirable traits. They don't care that the people we're chatting may be black, Hispanic or Native American. They don't care about cigarette stained fingers, unkempt hair, missing teeth, scruffy spoiled clothes or the fact they're sitting on the pavement with a McDonald's cup. They don't care! They see and feel the smile, the compassion, the interest and the love these "rejected" men and women offer. They judge from what they see and experience, not from a bunch of preconceived ideas. Sadly, the reality is, society's "desirable people" have scoffed, mocked, pushed aside, snarled and looked down at my daughter's obvious difference far more than these "undesirable folk" I just mentioned. Cyrus and Muriwai notice the difference between disdain and acceptance, and they act accordingly. 


Children, so innocently, simply live out Dr. Seuss' famous phrase, "A person's a person, no matter how small." Jesus held children up to us, as prejudice adults with preconceived ideas, to teach us how to live by faith.


May we all learn from the beautiful innocence of our sweet children.....
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