As soon as Greta McWhorter started telling her story, I reached for an envelope to take notes on; it'd be easier to chuck when we were done. I'd heard the story a million times:
My son's in trouble.
But he's innocent.
The cops are liars.
I listened, but I told her what I'd told so many mothers before, what I knew people would rightly wonder: How does she know what really happened on that Hartford street last month? And what was her 23-year-old son, who lives with the family in Bloomfield, doing driving around the city with some teenager carrying a loaded gun?
"Look," I said, "you know what people are going to say: That you're just a mother..."
"...desperate to save her kid," she finished.
Something about her tone, her recognition that her story was all too familiar, made me pause. I got out my notebook.
Greta, a postal worker, and her husband, a manufacturing worker, moved from Hartford to Bloomfield in 1993; they wanted to raise their three children right, in their own home. The kids went to school, got good jobs. They never got into trouble with the law. They avoided the stereotype of black youth doomed to failure.
They always told them, Greta said, that 20 minutes could change their whole lives.
And then the 20 minutes happened.
Her son, Kofi, was giving another Bloomfield kid a ride home from Hartford around 7 p.m. July 14 when cops pulled them over. After finding a loaded gun on the passenger, they instructed Kofi to stay in the car. Police say Kofi got out and became argumentative, making a dangerous situation worse. Kofi insists he had no idea the kid was carrying a gun and that he followed officers' instructions. He didn't get out of the car, he said, until they told him to.
Sitting in the courthouse this week, Greta said she was struck by how routine it seemed for everyone else. "This is exactly what I fought against," she said.
After a conversation with the prosecutor, her lawyer told her the family had a few options. They could fight the charges - but that would risk a prison sentence and cost money the family doesn't have. They could avoid jail time by accepting the misdemeanor conviction and paying a $1,000 charitable contribution - but that would make him another young black man with arecord.
Or, prosecutor Jeffrey Lee offered, Kofi could apply for a special form of probation, without state objection, that would erase the charges from his record - but only if he spent 30 days in pre-trial detention. Call it a warning to pick his friends more carefully.
They have until Friday to decide.
"What kind of choice is that?" Greta wondered.
From the cops' and prosecutor's perspective, it's a fair one. They acknowledge Greta and her husband did a good job raising their son. But there's a gun crisis in this city, a deadly situation that has folks demanding jail terms for anyone caught anywhere near an illegal gun - good kid or not. This way, Kofi gets a lesson, but no record.
From his mom's perspective, it's harsh treatment of a son who she believes is being railroaded, who is guilty only of not heeding her warnings to shun bad company. Sure, he avoids a record, but jail is jail and can ruin a young man.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and Greta is consumed with having to make a decision, worried the wrong choice will undermine everything she's worked for, terrified that those 20 minutes will forever alter her son's life.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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