There was more than a little bit of snickering in some circles this past week when the son of a well-known civil rights advocate ended up in police custody for drug possession.
The local headlines made clear that Brandon Boykin, who allegedly possessed 20 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle when police made the stop in St. Mary Parish, is the son of Jerome Boykin Sr., president of the Terrebonne Parish NAACP. There is no evidence nor suspicion that the elder Boykin had any knowledge of this, although there are more than enough voices popping up on social media suggesting that a parent automatically knows what their adult child is up to. This opinion is held largely by people who don’t have children, because if they did they would certainly know that it holds no water.
Truth be told, it was my phone call to Jerome Boykin that first gave him an indication that something might be problematic involving his 26-year-old son.
Upon realizing this I confess to a tear in the eye, because nobody wants to be the individual and quite specific bearer of bad news to a man about his son. Once the information was confirmed the response from the father was swift.
Nobody, he said, is above the law. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. He would get his son a lawyer. And it is difficult to determine what more a parent could say or do. There was some good news in all of this. First and foremost is that the policing involved was reasonable and professional, from what can initially be gleaned. The younger Mr. Boykin apparently followed police instructions, so nobody got hurt. This is especially consoling considering that he was in possession of a gun – one that under normal circumstances he has the right to possess under the Second Amendment. But that top cannot spin in the presence of illegal cannabis, and so there was a criminal charge involving the gun as well.
Jerome Boykin Sr. is an easy target for lots of people. The work he does has been effective, in that he has forced attention to questions of equality even when we didn’t want to look. He is a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that could end up changing radically how judges are elected in Terrebonne Parish. The judge’s decision is due later this month.
And so as news of his son’s arrest spread there were the social media comments, some smarmy, some gleeful, and how anyone can find glee in a father’s learning of a son’s arrest is beyond me, no matter who the father.
There was a lot of talk, as well, about the headlines, and why it is mentioned that who the father is, and this must be addressed.
For reasons already mentioned, the elder Mr. Boykin’s name is a household word in Terrebonne Parish. Had readers not been told the man arrested was his son, the question would be out there. In particular, the answer would be as well but this is a secret that is not kept for long. The question would then fall on the newspaper – indeed on myself, considering how often I have written about Jerome Boykin Sr. – as to why the information was not provided. That it is in the headline goes to the question of pointing readers to information they may deem useful. And certainly more people read this particular story because of the NAACP name connection. It is what makes this more relevant for conversation, and for inclusion perhaps of more detail.
Although Jerome Boykin St. is not an elected official, he is an individual whose life intersects with that of many other people. He is associated with an organization that has worked long and hard to make the world a better place. He himself is newsworthy and so, unfortunately the accusations against his son are newsworthy as well. It is only through clear representation of fact that we can perform out function of informing the public as they discern whether the ladder of the law has a top or bottom under certain circumstances.
Jerome Boykin knows this, and so was well-prepared once informed of the arrest to address it, as a parent and as a community leader. The arrest does not erode Jerome Boykin’s professional message, nor give it greater credence.
And it is a reminder, more than anything, of what Jerome Boykin said in response, which is that nobody is above the law. And that is the lesson worth taking home.