A few days ago, a 16-year-old boy from the Lower East Side of New York was murdered by a 12-year-old male from his neighborhood.
Yes, Raphael Ward, a local athlete was shot dead in the streets of New York City - over a Marmot winter parka.
A coat. A $600 coat.
This is nothing new. Once upon a time, it was US, as we were once the generation that were getting robbed for expensive coats. In the 80s, there were legends of the Decepticons and other gangs that would rob people and take their expensive items. And, in the early 90's, there were tales of 8-Ball coat jack moves and murders. And through the times, there have been tales of crimes surrounding Sidekicks, iPods, Starter jackets, Jordans, iPads and a bunch of other pricey items. This is nothing new, but this is different.
We are the parents of these kids - typically Black men - getting killed in cold blood.
So, the question is are we to blame at this point? We've seen it happen to people of our generation, we've seen the headlines and yet it continues to happen. Are we signing death certificate for our kids when we wrap them in these highly valued and highly targeted items when we know there are Great White Sharks in the water?
I think so and I believe there is a better way.
One part, to be frank, is education.
I'm not an expert on gangs or anything, but I've had plenty encounters with a wide variety of people, including aggressive law enforcement authorities. Kids need to know when its just time to fold up and live to see another day. Raphael Ward should have given up the coat when he was approached by a gang of armed thugs. He had time to update his Facebook and say "I'm dead." That means he had time to haul ass and run to safety.
Another part, parents must exercise discretion in the material goods we buy our children.
At 16, that kid shouldn't have had a coat that's worth $600, not in my opinion. What's the point? I know that materialism and expensive things are worshipped in our beloved American Society, but at what cost? Will the coat be beneficial to anybody in a year? The coat is just about meaningless in the context of his broader life. We've got to realign OUR priorities and take that money and invest it in businesses, activities, education and plant seeds that bear fruit later on in life. My daughter has some pricey things, but most double as educational tools too. And she does not leave the house with them unless its under my supervision.
The streets linger with crazy people. Yes, crazy and broke. Crazy with money. Crazy and sick. Crazy with a badge.
One time, my business partner and I were confronted by undercover police that were in disguised as cab drivers. We were in his car, which had Delaware plates and they must have thought we were criminals. They mad dogged us from outside of our car in the most jarring manner under the sun. It definitely threw him off, but I absolutely knew they were cops. And this was post Abner Louima. I wasn't about to go against that grain and become the next Abner Louima. I was not born to be a police brutality statistic.
Now, clearly police are not the same as street gangs, but its all about common sense and reducing the possibility for tragedy.
That includes rocking your most expensive gear at the right time should you decide to have expensive gear. That also, as parents, includes not buying it all all, no matter how much your children complain and moan about it. Who cares!? Its a COAT. You could have a bubble Bear goose and be good too. Your child may not be the flyest, but he will be alive. Nobody wants a bubble Bear goose, like I once had. Good!
These days, I am more mindful about my style, but I'm more mindful about my life and money too. There are all sorts of crazy activity in the streets and therefore we need to act accordingly. Its common sense now, but it hasn't always been that way. Children are still children and they need to be hammered with messaging that helps them make good decisions when "it" goes down. It will go down so sit the kids down. Tell them what to do when they are confronted. Teach them how to deal with thugs and gangs. Teach them how to fight back. Also, teach them have to call for help or walk away or scream in the middle of the streets like a fool to get attention. Whatever it takes.
These days, there are no do-overs so teach them how to survive. Part of that process is not dangling them in front of wolves like a piece of raw, bloody meat.