By NICK CHILES
Before I make my case, let me get something out of the way: I think we can say without much argument that a vast majority of the serious harm inflicted on women in our society—hell, our world—comes at the hands of men. I’m almost tempted to say ALL the serious harm, but I’ve seen enough of those crazy YouTube girlfight videos to hedge a bit, to add the “majority” qualifier. As the son of a mother, the brother of sisters, the husband of a wife, I suppose I have always been something of a womanist. (And no, I don’t mean womanizer.) But the role kicked in like a strong drug when I became the father of daughters. In womanist, I’m talking about a person who is devoted to fighting for the rights, freedom and respect of women. I don’t see how any dad could not be a womanist. But clearly, especially considering my statement in the opening sentence, some of us have gone astray.
My daughters are age 7 and 10, still live under my roof, and I spend many hours of the day thinking about their mental, physical and emotional state and ensuring that they as much as possible are floating on cloud nine. It aches me to think about that moment when I have to send them out in the world, when I will be reliant on others to help keep them out of harm. Because I know that once they walk out of my doors, they may never find another man who cares as deeply about this as I do. And this brings me to Michael Richardson. I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael Richardson lately. He’s the father of Mitrice Richardson, the beautiful 24-year-old African-American woman who disappeared two weeks ago after being let out of a Malibu police station in the middle of nowhere—a deserted industrial park— at 1:25 am. Mitrice was arrested after a dispute over an unpaid bill in a Malibu restaurant led police to discover less than an ounce of marijuana in her 1990 Honda Civic. Michael Richardson and his wife Latice Sutton have been on television praying for their daughter’s safe return and wondering out loud how the police could have let her walk out of the doors of the police station with no money, no cellphone, nothing, at 1:25 am. The police department’s response was that she was an adult and they couldn’t “force” her to stay. As if that’s the only other alternative: put the woman back in a jail cell or let her wander around on her own in the middle of nowhere in the dangerous wee hours, the time of night when good tidings tend to be scarce. I can’t even fathom what could be going through a police officer’s mind. Clearly not a care about Mitrice’s well-being.
Two things jumped out at me when I heard Mitrice’s story: She was described as “not street smart” and “afraid of the dark.” Upon hearing that, my seven-year-old asked how a 24-year-old woman could be afraid of the dark. Being afraid of the dark herself, she considers herself something of an expert on the rules and regulations. There is nothing in there about membership being extended to 24-year-olds. But what’s clear is that Michael Richardson likely did one helluva job in protecting his daughter. Maybe too good a job—his overprotectiveness might have left her without the tools to protect herself when she needed them. But I can certainly understand Richardson’s motivations. In order for a 24-year-old woman to get to 24 and still be afraid of the dark, somebody had to indulge her fear to the extent that she was never forced to overcome it. That means many nights of walking her back to her bedroom and assuring her that nothing lurked in the closet or under the bed or in the halls. Letting her know that Daddy was there whenever she was in need of protection or assurance. And as for the “not street smart” part of the description? I can imagine that there may come a day when somebody might describe my daughters as “not street smart.” Because I’m not ready to have it any other way. Now, surely my girls will be smart. I will make sure they are equipped with the ability to read people, to read situations, to know when it might be necessary to remove themselves from potential danger. But “street smart?” Having a working knowledge of and familiarity with the elements of the “street?” Nah, not happening to the Chiles girls, not as long as I have anything to do with it. The “streets” will always remain a distant presence to my girls.
I do acknowledge that one day I will have to let go of my daughters. I will have to allow them to drift out there among the gargoyles and the demons. I must pray that the Lord will watch over them. But I’d also like to think I might get some assistance from others. Say, for instance, law enforcement officials who are paid by taxpayers to protect and defend. You know that old biblical verse, the so-called Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31)? Well, I would like to add an addendum to the Golden Rule for all the men out there: “Do unto other women as you would have others do unto your daughters.” If we all live by that adage, if ever we come across a woman in distress or in need of some type of help or protection, we do the quick mental gymnastics to allow us to imagine that woman as our daughter. Because she IS somebody’s daughter. Clearly the Malibu police did no such thing. They let that girl wander out of that police station with nothing to protect herself. If they were thinking about their own daughters, perhaps somebody might have suggested a police escort to wherever she needed to go, perhaps her parents’ house. If there were a lack of police cars that night, maybe call her a cab, lend her $20. Her mother says the police knew that someone was on their way to get her, and still they let her leave the station. Shame, shame on the Malibu police.
My daughters must leave the nest, but at least I can give them one piece of sure-fire advice: if you sense trouble on the horizon, stay the hell out of Malibu.
STORY UPDATE: As of October 26, 2009, Mitrice Richardson is still missing. Her family has set up a website to keep the public posted on any developments in the search for their loved one. Click HERE for updates and information on Mitrice's disappearance.