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‘The Talk,’ a father’s poem

  • A man walks in the street after police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. As night fell Sunday in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street. Police attempted to push them back by firing tear gas and shouting over a bullhorn that the protest was no longer peaceful. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

    A man walks in the street after police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. As night fell Sunday in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street. Police attempted to push them back by firing tear gas and shouting over a bullhorn that the protest was no longer peaceful. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Police detain a protester following a march along Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo. Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The group marched along the closed street, rallying in front of the town's police headquarters to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officers. Brown, who was killed in a confrontation with police in the St. Louis suburb, was shot Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, and died following the confrontation with police. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

    Police detain a protester following a march along Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo. Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The group marched along the closed street, rallying in front of the town's police headquarters to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officers. Brown, who was killed in a confrontation with police in the St. Louis suburb, was shot Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, and died following the confrontation with police. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

  • A man wear buttons in support of Michael Brown Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, as he visits the site where Brown was shot by a police officer a week ago in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's shooting in the middle of a street following a suspected robbery of a box of cigars from a nearby market has sparked a week of protests, riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

    A man wear buttons in support of Michael Brown Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, as he visits the site where Brown was shot by a police officer a week ago in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's shooting in the middle of a street following a suspected robbery of a box of cigars from a nearby market has sparked a week of protests, riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • A man walks in the street after police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. As night fell Sunday in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street. Police attempted to push them back by firing tear gas and shouting over a bullhorn that the protest was no longer peaceful. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
  • Police detain a protester following a march along Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo. Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The group marched along the closed street, rallying in front of the town's police headquarters to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officers. Brown, who was killed in a confrontation with police in the St. Louis suburb, was shot Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, and died following the confrontation with police. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)
  • A man wear buttons in support of Michael Brown Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, as he visits the site where Brown was shot by a police officer a week ago in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's shooting in the middle of a street following a suspected robbery of a box of cigars from a nearby market has sparked a week of protests, riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

It’s more than time we had that talk

about what to say and where to walk,

how to act and how to strive,

how to be upright and stay alive.

How to live and how to learn,

how to dig and be dug in return.

When to concede and when to risk,

how to handle stop and frisk:

Keep your hands where they can see

and don’t reach for your ID

until they request it quite clearly.

Speak politely and answer sincerely.

The law varies according to where you are,

whether you’re traveling by foot or driving a car.

It won’t help to be black and proud,

nor will you be safer in a crowd.

Keeping your speech calm and restrained,

ask if, in fact, you’re being detained.

If the answer is no, you’re free to go.

If the answer is yes, remain unfazed

to avoid being choked, shot or tased.

Give every cop your ear, but none your wit;

don’t tempt him to fold, spindle, mutilate, hit

or otherwise cause pain

to tendons, bones, muscles, brain.

These are things you need to know

if you want to safely come and go.

But still there is no guarantee

that you will make it home to me.

Despite all our care and labor,

you might frighten a cop or a neighbor

whose gun sends you to eternal sleep,

proving life’s unfair and talk is cheap.

(Jabari Asim is executive editor of “Crisis” magazine, published by the NAACP. He was a Washington Post Book World editor from 1996 to 2007.)

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