Talk about a Rock and a Hard Place: Inner City Parents Trying to do the Right Thing

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

With gun violence making near daily headlines, police are either exploiting locals’ fear of their children’s involvement in violence or trying to prevent more. Take your pick:

Boston police are launching a program that will call upon parents in high-crime neighborhoods to allow detectives into their homes, without a warrant, to search for guns in their children’s bedrooms.

The program, which is already raising questions about civil liberties, is based on the premise that parents are so fearful of gun violence and the possibility that their own teenagers will be caught up in it that they will turn to police for help, even in their own households.

In the next two weeks, Boston police officers who are assigned to schools will begin going to homes where they believe teenagers might have guns. The officers will travel in groups of three, dress in plainclothes to avoid attracting negative attention, and ask the teenager’s parent or legal guardian for permission to search. If the parents say no, police said, the officers will leave.

If officers find a gun, police said, they will not charge the teenager with unlawful gun possession, unless the firearm is linked to a shooting or homicide.

I’d feel better about the plan if parents could call a hotline and ask for a ‘no harm no foul’ search rather than opening their door to a surprise visit from the boys in blue, but check this: “Critics said they worry that some residents will be too intimidated by a police presence on their doorstep to say no to a search.” Yuh huh, especially inner city parents. Imagine yourself just hitting home after a day emptying bedpans or trash cans in some big impersonal hospital or airport to find the po-po ‘innocently’ asking to ‘allow’ a search that might or might not end your Ray-Ray up on lockdown.

What I find most depressing of all is the failure of black, local civic officials to either straight up support the initiative or not:

The program will target young people whose parents are either afraid to confront them or unaware that they might be stashing weapons, said [an official], who has been trying to gain support from community leaders for the past several weeks. …
St. Louis police [where the plan originated] reassured skeptics by letting them observe searches, said Robert Heimberger, a retired St. Louis police sergeant who was part of the program. Heimberger said the program also suffered after clergy leaders who were supposed to offer help to parents never appeared.

“I became frustrated when I’d get the second, or third, or fourth phone call from someone who said, ‘No one has come to talk to me,’ ” he said. Residents “lost faith in the program and that hurt us.”

In St. Louis, 98% of parents allowed the searches, fifty per cent of which resulted in confiscated weapons but the initiative fizzled out due to lost funding and lost civic support.

And what happened to the children of those parents who so bravely, or gullibly, trusted ‘the man’? Something tells me–not what their parents had in mind. I wish Boston well and hope they apply the lessons learned from my home town, St. Louis. But nothing like this can work without the sustained support of the ministers and activists based in the community.

Say it loud, black people: you in or you out of initiatives like this?

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.