THE BLOG
09/11/2014 06:25 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

Michael Brown Was No Angel -- Neither Was I

Scott Olson via Getty Images

Growing up, I was no angel.

Just ask my mom, who loves to tell stories about how she and my stepdad barely survived my teenage years. But they did survive -- and more importantly, so did I. Despite some brushes with the law, I had a huge advantage: I was a white, upper-middle-class teenager. No cop ever pulled a gun on me.

As the Michael Brown tragedy begins to fade from the headlines, there is one story I can't seem to shake. The day before his parents buried him, the New York Times ran a profile about the 18-year-old black teenager who was shot six times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and left for hours to bake on the hot pavement. At one point, the piece described Brown as "no angel."

I've been thinking about my own coming of age ever since. Back in the mid-1970s, I was unhappy with the world, often angry, sullen and rebellious. And despite having upstanding citizens for parents -- or perhaps because of it -- I sometimes broke the law. I skipped school, loitered, smoked pot and shoplifted.

The difference is that, based on race and class (and quite probably gender, too), I got the benefit of the doubt. Once, I got caught stealing mascara from a local drug store. Nobody called the police. The clerk called my mother instead, and for punishment I had to return the item, apologize to the owner and was grounded.

Another time, when I was skipping school with a gang of friends, bumming around Miami Beach and smoking cigarettes, we got picked up by the cops. They brought us in and marched us past the cell block to scare us. They did not, however, arrest us. Instead, they called our parents.

Certainly, nobody in authority threatened us with a firearm. It never occurred to me that anyone would. And while my parents surely worried and wondered what would become of me, they never once were afraid that I would get gunned down for my transgressions.

Like me, like most everyone, Brown was not one-dimensional, as the Times made clear. In my case, I devoured books and newspapers, loved music and swimming in the ocean and cared about social justice. Brown was a good friend, had a passion for rap music (like my own son), was "deft with technology and his hands" and was on a path to go to technical college.

When I first sat down to capture the less savory parts of my past, I thought better of it. I write mostly about parenting and couldn't help but think that these memories would reflect poorly on me. And I am certain that my children -- a 22-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son -- and all of their friends will love holding these ancient indiscretions over me.

But after reading the Times profile, I thought it must be said. And it must be said by white people who themselves were no angels when they were young. And whose children are surely no angels now.

Being a teenager is a time when many people take foolish risks and act stupid. It is a time for "grappling with problems and promise," as the headline in the Times put it.

In the world I came from, that was OK. I was allowed to make mistakes and still grow up to have a full and rich and meaningful life. Because I was white and privileged, I had time and space to grapple with my problems and the chance to fulfill my promise.

Michael Brown, black and male, never will.