No one will face charges in the death of Tamir Rice. And as frustrating as that is, I understand why it happened.
We are wrong to look at the actions of individual officers. What needs indicting is the system of police training itself.
Within the parameters outlined by the grand jury (the exact details to which I am not privy), I can only surmise that the details were quite straightforward: officers were informed by a 911 operator that a black youth was pointing a gun at people in a park. Officers responding placed themselves between the youth and other potential targets. Officers saw black youth reach for a weapon. Officers responded with protective–and, alas, deadly–force.
Facts presented in that way make it clear that the officers, though they may be regretful at the death of a 12-year-old, reacted in a manner that followed police procedure. And, in that light, the grand jury could not return with a warrant for prosecution.
They made the proper decision, based on what was presented. But what was presented is a long way from the universal truths.
Truth one: Tamir Rice was a dopey kid playing with a pretend gun. The way he played would be written off if he were white. But because he wasn’t, someone called him into the cops.
Truth two: Cops are trained to a kind of risk avoidance that perceives persons of color as a far bigger risk than they really are. The stats show that cops are at less risk now than they have been in the last century, but they are trained to regard every difficulty involving a minority as possibly fatal. No one wants to end up dead on the streets, so this training makes cops much edgier than reality warrants.
Truth three: An African American male cannot overcome being viewed as a deadly enemy. Tamir was <i>playing</i>. His play can be regarded as thoughtless and stupid, but considering that white mass murderers have been brought in without injury, an honest assessment of the situation has to consider that unsubstantiated fear triggers tragic reactions.
The cop who shot Tamir testifies that the kid was admonished at least twice to drop his weapon. Yet the act of reaching for the weapon–possibly to drop it–was the inciting act that led to the firing of shots that killed a 12-year-old boy. How could Tamir have survived a situation where trying to drop his toy gun resulted in getting shot, but not trying to drop it would have led to getting shot? The kid was literally in a no-win situation. Perhaps if he had had the wits to drop to his stomach with his hands behind his head he might have survived.
Is that really the standard we want to accept? Perfect understanding of a situation and the ability to make a decision that only cool hindsight would make obvious? Dear heavens, that’s not the standard I want to abide.
And yet that is the standard to which we appear to be holding black youths. Don’t you know that you should always be perfect? Don’t you know that anything less that complete compliance is a death sentence?
Why can’t you just be the good nigger?
It’s painful to write that sentence. But I can’t avoid it. It’s what so many people expect. A white kid murders people in a church, and the cops find the time and energy to talk him out of his stronghold. They take him to freakin’ Burger King.
A black child plays unwisely with a toy gun. And people defend his murder as his own fault.
Tamir Rice didn’t bow and scrape. He wasn’t white, so he didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. He hadn’t killed anybody, but because he wasn’t white that didn’t matter. Any minute now, a black man could just freaking kill anyone. Everyone.
Being black and all.
And yet, I will sadly and regretfully nod in agreement of the decision made, regarding these cops, in these circumstances. Because this nonsensical behavior is what they were trained to do.
The problem is not with Officer Friday, on patrol. The problem is systemic, endemic. It stems from the belief that The Other is inferior, that there is only one way to live, to be.
Until we deal with that. Tamir Rice is just one more statistic.