Skip to main content

Why I won't let my son get arrested

By Bryan Monroe, CNN Washington Editor, Opinion
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Recent report says black males have a 50% chance of being arrested by age 23
  • White males have a 40% risk of arrest by same age
  • Critics of the study say methodology is flawed
  • Monroe: What do I tell my son about how to avoid being arrested?

Editor's note: Bryan Monroe is CNN's Washington Editor for Opinion and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanMonroeCNN.

(CNN) -- I have a bright, funny 12-year-old son. He plays a mean game of basketball, loves strawberry banana smoothies and spends way too much time texting on his iPhone. And, if you believe a new study just released, there's a 50-50 chance he'll end up in handcuffs sometime before he turns 23.

A report from the University of South Carolina and the University of Albany released this month in the journal Crime & Delinquency argued that by the time they reach age 23, nearly one in two black males (49%) will have been arrested. And the study doesn't even count arrests in minor traffic violations.

One out of two. And for white males, there is almost a 40% chance they will have been arrested by 23, according to the report. For Latino males, its 44%. Females fare slightly better. By age 23, arrest rates were 20% for white females, 18% for Latinas and 16% black females.

Bryan Monroe
Bryan Monroe

Looking deeper into the study, it showed that for younger boys -- those of any race who have yet to turn 18 -- there is about a one in four chance they'll get arrested.

That is stunning, no matter what race you are.

There are critics of the study who say that methodology is flawed, that "it is more of an experiment about handling missing waves of data from a longitudinal sample than a meaningful study about race, gender and crime," Ivory A. Toldson, an author and Ph.D researcher at Howard University, said in an article on TheRoot.com.

But even if the number is off by half, it's still alarming.

Can you imagine the impact of your young son -- or grandson, or nephew, or cousin or brother -- having to look down the barrel of a police officer's gun, or having his wrists forcibly twisted behind his back and handcuffed in public? And, in many cases, all before he is old enough to vote. Or drive. Or get a job.

O'Malley: Extend unemployment benefits
Chicago deadly violence at new low
Holder: 'Vicious cycle' traps too many

Can you imagine how that young boy will grow up to be a man? Can you imagine his feelings toward the police -- many of whom are trying as hard as they can to keep the streets safe -- who put those handcuffs on him? Will he trust them? Will he respect them? Or will he fear them?

Now, can you imagine the difficulties when that same young man goes to get a job? Many employers ask you at the end of that job application form whether you have ever been arrested. These kids will forever have to check the YES box, hoping they get the chance to explain away the circumstances later. But we know most will never make it to the first interview.

The study's author put it in context. "A problem is that many males -- especially black males -- are navigating the transition from youth to adulthood with the baggage and difficulties from contact with the criminal justice system," said Robert Brame, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina and lead author of the report.

Ours is a society that lives in fear. A society that has created a multibillion-dollar industry based on locking people up. We want our cops to protect us, to confront first, arrest next, then resolve later.

Sure, crime is a real problem in America, although the crime rate has been steadily declining for more than the past decade, according to the FBI. So has the rate of young black men entering accredited four-year colleges, compared to black females and others.

But the unemployment rate among those same young men -- many of whom had to check that YES box on the application -- is still more than twice that of the population at large, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a father, I will do everything I can to make sure my son is not one of the 50% who get arrested, but instead among the 50% who don't.

I am determined that my son will do great in school, stay away from the wrong element in the streets and, by 23, will have hopefully graduated from college, gone on to graduate school or started his first job in the real world (and moved out of the house, for sure!)

But it just angers me that, in 2014, I now have to teach him, along with how to tie a tie, how to write a proper resume and how to open the door for a lady, how he must behave when confronted by the police.

Keep your hands at 10 and 2. Don't make any fast moves. Don't talk back. And do what they ask of you.

And maybe, just maybe, you won't end up on your knees, hands behind your back, feeling the cold of the steel around your wrists.

Maybe...

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bryan Monroe

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT