While I was calling my kids into the kitchen to clean up after themselves - they left pieces of fresh fruit on the floor and counter - my 13-year-old son breezily told me that the 14-year-old boy killed in Longs this past weekend had been a member of my son’s football team this past fall.
I wanted to stop everything, to tell him I loved him, to shake him, to remind him about the dangers of the world, to talk about the heightened odds he faces as a young black man and how sad and scary and angering such news was.
We’ve had those conversations before, maybe too often. He knows what my wife and I expect of him.
So I didn’t stop everything. As planned - after the kitchen was cleaned - we walked to a small local diner for dinner. But because it was closed, we kept going, ending up at a McDonalds.
I quizzed my son to see if he was struggling with the news. He seemed to still be processing it, remembering the time he and his friend and others participated in free style rap sessions at school.
It didn’t come up again as we ate. Instead, my son, 10-year-old daughter and I laughed about the ‘My Little Pony’ doll that came with the Happy Meal.
My daughter said she didn’t like it. I said I did and commenced to combing the doll’s hair.
My kids didn’t believe I did a good job. My daughter took the comb and finished the job.
That’s the way our day ended, wondering about the best hairstyle for My Little Pony and buying sugary cereal from Dollar General, things we don’t normally do.
Being together is normal, as is doing silly things and having stern conversations about missed or not-well-done school assignments or why it’s so hard to pick up dirty socks and place dirty dishes in the sink or not play the radio too loud.
After they went to bed, I texted my wife about the news from my son, still more disturbed than he seemed to be.
It floored and saddened her, too.
“You just want to keep him close, don’t you?” she asked.
But in many ways, my fears are overblown. As scary and as real as that news from Longs is, young black boys like my son are not likely to have their lives ended that way, even though they are more likely to be killed by a gun than in a car accident - but they most likely won’t succumb to either of those things.
According to an analysis by educator Tim Wise, only about 1 percent of African-Americans “and no more than 2 percent of black males” will commit a violent crime in a given year.
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that a hoodied Trayvon Martin in 2012 had about “the same low odds of committing a crime” as a white teen from 1959 like “Bud Anderson from Father Knows Best.”
“Today’s young African Americans display the lowest rates of crime and serious risk of any generation that can be reliably assessed,” according to that 2013 Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report. “In the last 20 years in particular, the FBI reports, rates of crime among African American youth have plummeted: All offenses (down 47%), drug offenses (down 50%), property offenses (down 51%), serious Part I offenses (down 53%), assault (down 59%), robbery (down 60%), all violent offenses (down 60%), rape (down 66%), and murder (down 82%).”
A 14-year-old boy in Longs being shot and killed is a serious thing, something that needs to be grappled with. There are too many similar headlines.
But we should not ignore the broader reality. Efforts over the past 20 years to curtail violence have been working, making the world a safer place for boys like my son.