Fighting for a Place at the Playground: On Safety, Bullying and Everything in Between

On Saturplaygroundday, I experienced one of the most frightening things as a parent: the threat of my child being hurt by someone else.

I took my three year old daughter and ten month old son to the park. Immediately a little boy began terrorizing my daughter. He wouldn’t let her get on the slide when she politely said ‘excuse me,’ challenging his desire to hog the equipment that was meant for everyone to share. When she finally got through, he picked up a very large stick and threatened to hit her with it.

I started to inquire about where the boy’s parents were by asking the other kids in the park who seemed to know him well. But his parents weren’t there. I threatened to call the police if he touched her, not really sure if the police would come to my aid if I did. I mean, we were in Shoreview and I’m black. The boy was white. It would have been my word against his. Right? Well, and possibly the other witnesses who were there in the vicinity who were trying to encourage him to put down his weapon and leave my daughter alone.

Anyhow, the boy seemed unbothered by my threats. He put down the stick but kept pursuing my daughter everywhere she went. She ran to the swings, he chased after her. To the slides, he was right behind. To the toy car, he went there to. And back and forth, back and forth he followed her, ready to pounce like a lion who had located its prey.

After sometime, he left. And my heart rate normalized a little bit. I think my daughter’s did too. She went about playing, happy and free and safe and unarmed for the next 20 minutes or so before we left.

The reality is I probably will never know why this little boy harassed my daughter. I don’t know if he was having a bad day, or if he didn’t like the color of my daughter’s skin, or if he thought she was just the prettiest girl he had ever seen and was beside himself, or if he thought she was an easy target because she was the smallest one there. What I do know is that whatever the reason, his response was learned. No eight year old kid intuitively thinks that wielding a stick as a weapon is the way to go and how to handle his problems.  But he learns it as a result of the society that he lives in.

And that’s a problem. The very society that we live in reinforces violent behavior, often along racial lines. This society prioritizes gun rights over public safety, so that as long as someone can come up with a valid ‘defense’ excuse they are innocent. In Georgia, a man recently showed up at a park where children were playing little league, waving his gun around. He did it simply to exert his rights to carry a gun, and so went unpunished, even though the parents and their children felt that their rights to safety were no longer being protected.

This society also teaches the young and old alike how to deal with people who disagree with them over the smallest infractions. Just the other day, a New Brighton man killed his neighbor over a deer feeding dispute (yes you read that correctly). Last week, a 14 year old girl killed another girl over a Facebook argument. Because of the heightened level of PTSD that so many people in this society seem to carry, disputes that would ordinarily have gone ignored or at the most garnered a blackened eye, are now taking people’s lives.

With everything in me, I want to be able to keep my children safe. I want them to be free to go and move about in the world, and at the park for that matter, without fearing who might be there ready to do them in because of the color of their skin or because of a disagreement. I want to send them to school in the morning and be assured that they will come back in the afternoon. I want them to not have to worry about someone carrying a gun, or being profiled, or being harassed just because.

Am I crazy? Or isn’t this what every parent wants? No one has kids wanting them to be misused or abused by this world. No one has a baby and thinks and hopes for them to be bullied. No, when we have kids, we want the best for them. We want them to think and feel safe. So then how do we make this place safe? For the sake of everyone’s kids, we have got to make this place safe!


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2 thoughts on “Fighting for a Place at the Playground: On Safety, Bullying and Everything in Between

  1. Diane

    Why didn’t you get up and tell that boy to back off? Any kid gets on my child at the park, I don’t just sit back and let it happen. I had a case today, my 5 year old was sitting at the top of the slide and wasn’t going down. A girl of about 12 was busy piling sand on the slide and her mother walked over and told my daughter not to go down….ummm, my daughter was in the little kids playground and we had to leave. No that wasn’t going to happen. I walked over and told the girl, ” let her go down the slide”. The girl stood up and said, “what?” I said, “let her go down the slide”. My daughter slid down and pushed through the mounds of sand. I cannot stand kids who hog the slide. I remember being the child sitting on the top of the slide waiting for the bully to move off the slide. Now that I’m the adult and these little shits are no longer bigger than me, I have no patience for their bullshit.

    1. ebonyjohanna

      Thank you for sharing your experience. The only thing is I would never want it to be perceived that I was bullying someone else’s child. As a black mom in an otherwise white neighborhood, I knew what I was up against. So I stood closely by my child in case something popped off. My presence and threat of the police calmed things down, I’m sure. And I am glad they did.

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