A Very Short Story and a Tract
Dedicated to Dan
In recent months, the news media has been telling us that the incidence of child abductions is on the rise. There have been reports of young children being taken–snatched from train stations, parking lots or even from homes. This latter form has given rise to much concern in communities where families have been unaccustomed to such occurrences and has prompted a great deal of speculation as to how this might happen, sometimes in broad daylight and under the watchful eye of concerned neighbors.
I have been accustomed to taking my granddaughter in her stroller to daycare every morning during the week. We would walk blithely along to the sound of nursery rhymes played on my cell phone while she listened quietly, occasionally interrupting, “Grandad, are you happy?” Or, “Why are you happy?” to which I would usually respond, “Because I love you.” After dropping her off, I would hurry back with the empty stroller, sometimes breaking into a quick jog or listening to NPR to pass the time.
In the afternoon, I would set out again with the empty stroller to pick up my charge and bring her home.
On this particular afternoon, as I took the stroller and headed out, I noticed a man that I had never seen before in the community. He was about five foot eleven, slim, and wearing a T-shirt and tan shorts. What struck me was that he appeared to be casually walking a dog and had a child about seven months old strapped to him. He was listening to his cellphone with earphones plugged in, and seemed lost in reverie. As soon as I stepped on to the street, he disconnected his earphones, pocketed his cellphone and slowed almost to a crawl.
This behavior seemed rather strange, and I immediately thought of the recent news reports of child abductions. Was this his child? Had he just abducted the baby? Why did he slow down and get off his phone so abruptly? Should I call 911 and report a suspicious individual walking alone slowly with a baby. Normally one would see a couple, or perhaps a mother. But this? It indeed looked strange and completely out of place.
Just as I was about to reach for my phone and dial the emergency number, he stopped abruptly; and as if reading my mind, and in an attempt to disorient me and throw me off my trail he blurted out, “Do you know the people who live at that house?
“Which house?” I asked.
“The one you took the stroller from.”
I was dumbfounded. He had played his game masterfully. He now had the upper hand and I was thrown off track.
Confounded by his question and unnerved by his calm demeanor, I explained that I was going to pick up my granddaughter, at which point he apologized and continued on “his walk”.
Had I just witnessed an abduction in process? Should I still call 911 and report what I was witnessing? Or was this man, like me, making assumptions about what he saw. You see, I am a black man walking an empty stroller in an upper-class neighborhood. I just had to be a thief, or so he thought—typical assumption because I “fit the description” and met the “stereotype”. But had I made assumptions too? Or was my assumption simply a frame for portraying the story I am telling of the type of incident that all too often befalls black men and can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences?
Perhaps we should all take a step back and refrain from judging other people without being aware of their circumstances. Or should we? The level of distrust, or more accurately, of FEAR that exists in our society . . . is it fanned by politicians and by the media? And is it, perhaps, what gives rise to the prejudices that are exhibited, not only in the privacy of homes, but alas! in public where others are judged by criteria other than the, “Content of their character”? Or is it something deeper—akin to the desire for power, influence, and control. The desire to keep the Other out and maintain the purity of homogeneity. But how can we properly judge others unless we are willing to get to know them and refrain from prejudging them, a practice which will ultimately end up making (us ASSUME) an ASS out of U and ME.