Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Black Lives Matter

This is not Ferguson, Los Angeles or Baltimore … it’s Berwyn, Pennsylvania in 2015

This post is about an upper middle class family who live in the Berwyn Estates community of Easttown Township, where house values average in the $1 million+ category. The parents, the father a vascular surgeon and the mother an attorney, have twin teenage sons. The 15-year old boys, both boy scouts, attend Friend’s Central School and Lawrenceville School respectively, and are active in their church. The family is African-American.

On Friday, July 24, the brothers along with a friend, rode their bicycles to a friend’s house in the Greens of Waynesboro to go swimming. Another upscale neighborhood in Berwyn, the ‘Greens’ is located next to the Waynesboro Country Club and its streets are named for famous golf courses (St. Andrews, Augusta, Stanwich, etc.) It is my understanding that currently no African American families reside in the Greens.

The mother of the twin boys (remember, she is an attorney) shared ‘Biking While Black’ of what happened next in a letter to friends, neighbors and on social media. She recounts that “a white woman with short dark brown/black hair who was driving a white Jeep SUV” followed and videotaped her sons and their friend as they cycled in the Greens. As they were leaving the neighborhood, two Easttown Township police cars stopped the boys because “suspicious activity” was reported. The mother of the twins states that, “the boys were sandwiched in between the [police] cars and terrified.” The police filed an incident report with the Easttown Township Police Department.

After hearing the story from her sons, the mother went to the Easttown police station and was told that the complainant (the Greens resident) called the police because of recent burglaries and that she was worried because she was leaving town and that the “boys had on backpacks”. According to the mother of the boys, the backpacks contained wet swimsuits and towels.

In her letter shared with the Greens of Waynesboro community, the mother of the twin brothers states,

“… We all know that the real reason the call was made to the police was because they are black. I understand that there have been several recent burglaries in your community and everyone is on a heightened sense of alert because of that. I want you to understand the kind of heightened alert I am on every day and every time my sons leave the safety of their home.

To the woman who was following and videotaping my sons, you frightened two young men who have lived in this community their whole lives. Please explain to me why my sons were so frightening and suspicious? Do you fear every child riding a bicycle in your community? Are backpacks the Berwyn PA equivalent of a hoodie?

Please understand where my heightened alert comes from. Whatever you think of the Trayvon Martin verdict several things are clear. The young black man (who is now dead) was perceived as one who was “suspicious and did not belong in that community”. These are the words told to the police about my boys.

To the parents in the Greens at Waynesboro, how would you feel knowing that a stranger has a video tape of your children? How would you feel knowing that there is now a police incident report with your children’s names, address and birthdays permanently a part of an official record? How would you feel if your children tell you now that they no longer feel comfortable going to their friends’ homes, or riding their bicycles?

The mother closes her letter with a plea for people to, “please stop seeing stereotypes” and to instead “see human beings.”

In a follow-up comment to her initial letter, the mother graciously explains why she chose to make this situation public,

I have gone so public with this event because I understand that racism is a part of all of us. It’s impossible not to have quick impressions when confronted by a group of people or things that are different. We all live in a country where the media seems to thrive on perpetuating fear and stereotypes. What we do with those reactions is what makes the difference.

I hope through this very public display of our families experience, a few more people will stop….acknowledge the fear/thought they have as a reaction that should be changed…breathe….and then see the person they are interacting with as just another one of God’s children.

We all watch the news but this story brings the troubling, ugly side of racism right to our doorstep. Racial discrimination is a deep-rooted part of this country’s history, and it’s going to take substantial work for change to happen. People talk about diversity in communities during Black History Month, but other times of the year, this conversation disappears. Black Lives Matter – All Lives Matter.

I applaud the mother for standing up and speaking out but I don’t know that I could be as tolerant and gracious in my response. Bravo to her for setting the bar high as a parent and as a role model to us all!

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