Correction: An earlier version of this article said there have been 984 recorded incidents of fatal police shootings this year. There have been 984 recorded incidents of fatal police shootings in the past year. The article has been corrected.
For Judith Browne Dianis, it was the image of Ma’Khia Bryant’s rainbow Crocs. The distinctive shoes reminded her of her own 18-year-old daughter, who wore Crocs all through high school.
“It just cut through my soul,” said Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group.
Bryant, 16, was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday afternoon during an altercation involving at least one other girl. Police body camera video of the incident showed Bryant with a knife in her hand. When Bryant took a swing toward the other girl, officer Nicholas Reardon fired, fatally shooting her.
Mothers of Black children around the country say Bryant’s death, which happened as many people were lauding the “justice” of Chauvin’s conviction, highlighted the relentless nature of systemic racism. It also amplified a particularly fraught challenge: How to protect and prepare their kids for the world without weighing them down or causing further trauma.
As a parent, it’s hard to have those conversations while simultaneously reminding your child, “I want you to live a life of joy and freedom,” said Dianis. “But there is this world, this country that we live in, that doesn’t want the same.”
Claudia Huiza, a clinical researcher, chose to raise her kids in Culver City, Calif., for the same reasons many parents do: safe and reputable schools.
But right now, she says, her 18-year-old daughter refuses to walk to school, even though it’s just three blocks away.
“My daughter is extremely afraid of police,” Huiza said. “It’s post-traumatic stress by association.”
Huiza, 51, is Latina; both her daughter and her 21-year-old son are Black and Latino.
She traces her daughter’s fear of police to when she was 9, and Huiza got pulled over by a police officer for a broken taillight. The encounter, which would seem routine to some motorists, was deeply triggering to Huiza.
For Huiza, it brought back memories of the police who held her, her ex-husband and his best friend — both of whom are Black — at gunpoint when they were moving into a new apartment. The police, she said, approached them with their guns drawn, accusing them of robbing a nearby Burger King.
“That went on for about 45 minutes where they had guns drawn to my head,” Huiza said. “You don’t know if you’re going to survive. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”
That day, when she got pulled over for the taillight, her daughter noticed how rattled she was, Huiza said.
Almost every day, Huiza said, her family sees young people of color being stopped by police, sometimes on their bikes, sometimes walking, sometimes driving. Among her son’s friends, Huiza said, it’s understood that if they’re driving somewhere, a White friend needs to be at the wheel.
But Bryant’s death reminds her of the limits of such safeguards.
“It’s almost like we have a war against our youth of color,” Huiza said. As a parent, she feels overwhelmed. “We’re suffocating here.”
Tiffany Crutcher knows the cost of police brutality all too well. Her brother, Terence Crutcher, was fatally shot in Tulsa in 2016 by police officer Betty Shelby.
Her family received legal guardianship of his children after his death. On Mother’s Day, her teenage nieces give her cards, and she regularly takes his young son to the bike park. Since Crutcher’s mother died of the coronavirus last year, she knows that she will be their main maternal figure, guiding them through college applications and planning “sweet 16” birthday parties.
“They’ve endured so much trauma since they’ve been born,” she said, adding that she just wants them to have a “normal” life.
Weeks of watching Chauvin’s trial have already been traumatic for her. It instantly brought to mind how her own brother was vilified during Shelby’s trial, she said. That trial ended in an acquittal.
In the hours leading up to the Chauvin verdict, Crutcher was anxious — “pacing and nervous and shaking.” The murder conviction brought tears. She screamed and thanked God.
“In that one moment,” she said, “there was hope.”
Then, hours later, a friend shared the news of Bryant’s death at the hands of a police officer. This time, she cried tears of despair.
Later, she came across videos of Bryant on her TikTok account. Like many other teens, Bryant seemed to enjoy doing her hair and makeup.
“She’s a beautiful girl. What in the world could she have done to deserve four bullets in the chest?”
For many people of color, that Bryant was killed by police on the same day of Chauvin’s murder conviction showed the gulf between justice and accountability.
For Dianis, Chauvin’s conviction is still a “very narrow view of accountability”: one officer being held responsible for his actions. But he is part of a larger system and culture, which includes the police who stood by and watched him murder Floyd, as well as the legal protections — like qualified immunity and use of force of standards — that prevent many officers from being charged with on-duty killings.
Justice, to Dianis, would mean dismantling a system that protects officers who kill.
“Justice would require that we would be thinking very differently about how we keep people safe. Because for many Black people, keeping us safe means also keeping us safe from the police.”
When Charmaine Lewis, the mother of two preteen boys living in Tucson, thinks about Bryant’s killing, she thinks about everything the officer had at his disposal: a gun, a Taser, the weight of the law, time.
She thinks about what the officer saw in front of him: a 16-year-old girl with a knife.
“It’s not a war zone, you’re not facing an enemy,” Lewis said. “What is it about her situation that they couldn’t approach the child as a child, with some humanity, dignity and some measure of grace?”
The 51-year-old mother thinks often about protecting and preparing her sons for the world. She sometimes worries that she’s scarred them by not shielding them from the news.
She doesn’t want them to feel burdened by or bitter about their Blackness. But she also knows there’s a limit to what she can do. Last year, her oldest, a 12-year-old, was called the n-word.
“That happened so soon, sooner than I expected, sooner than I was prepared to handle it, and I thought I was prepared to handle it,” she said. Lewis was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States when she was her son’s age, she said. She’s never been called the slur.
She’s angry, so angry that she was brought to tears. Lewis says she is upset she’s the one having “the talk” about their safety; one that she isn’t sure the parents of the White child who called her son a slur have had with their son.
“White parents need to do their job,” Lewis said.
She holds on to as much joy as she can, like when her youngest son, 10, recently declared, “Sometimes, I just want to be extra.”
“I know what it is to feel free,” said Lewis, referencing her childhood in Jamaica, when she said she wasn’t so conscious of race. “Because that’s how I was born. That’s how I was raised. And my children never had that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained a photo that incorrectly identified Hazel Bryant as Hazel Washington. The article has been corrected.