Tamar Rice’s Life Reduced to Money

When the news report told the world that the family of Tamir Rice, the unarmed, 12-year-old African American boy who was shot to death by police officers, had been awarded $6 million by the city of Cleveland, I was sick. And angry. (http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/25/us/tamir-rice-settlement/)

I was sick because once again, a family received money but not justice. The officers who killed Tamir Rice were not charged with his murder. Although they rode up on this young boy, who was holding a toy pellet gun, probably scaring him half to death, and shot him within seconds, they were able to give the standard “I was in fear for my life” line and they got off.  Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fired the fatal shot is still on the police force, still on the streets.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city of Cleveland admits no wrong and the family has agreed to drop criminal charges against the two officers involved in the tragedy. (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35793-tamir-rice-s-family-gets-6-million-settlement-for-police-killing-of-12-year-old)

The whole scenario, one which is repeated over and over in this country, makes me sick.

But I was angry because there is a disconnect between the cry of what “taxpayers” complain about and what they are willing to spend millions of dollars for. “Taxpayers,” which seems to be code for “white” taxpayers, are willing to pay millions of dollars to families of victims of police violence and brutality, and they are also willing to pay millions to keep people, too many of whom are black, poor …and innocent of violent crime – in prison. They are willing to pay millions of dollars to build prisons but not willing to put that same amount of money into building quality schools in urban neighborhoods. They are willing to pay millions of dollars to families of murdered children, but not willing to pay millions to expand Medicaid so that poor people can have access to health care.

It is sickening.

If it were my child who had been murdered as had been Tamir Rice or John Crawford, or Mike Brown …no amount of money would be enough. I would not want money. In the absence of my child, killed unjustly, I would want justice.  I would want some court, somewhere, to make the police pay for what they had done. I would want a movement started that would demand all police departments go through some kind of training, something , to make it so they would have to stop killing unarmed black people. I would want it and I would want it bad.

I wouldn’t care about the money. The hell with the money.

Whenever a loved one is murdered, the ones left behind want justice. It is a normal human reaction and need, but it seems that this society doesn’t understand that the continued lack of justice for families of victims  shot by police only creates more anger, anguish and pain for survivors.

This society doesn’t understand and doesn’t care. That is the nucleus, the center of the pain that the African American community carries and has carried for literally generations. From the time when whites could hunt down and kill escaped slaves legally, to the countless times when blacks were tried by white judges in front of all-white juries, many times for crimes the judge and jury knew they hadn’t committed, this travesty and absence of justice has been a reason for a deep-seated anger and pain for African-Americans.

To add insult to injury, the head of the Cleveland police union, Steve Loomis, had the audacity to suggest that perhaps the family of Tamir Rice would use a part of the money they receive to “educate” children on the dangers of mishandling either toy or real guns. Loomis said he wants something positive to come out of Tamir’s death.

Seriously. The police department of Cleveland, which murdered Tamir Rice, now wants to dictate how the family of this child should spend money they received?

White supremacy, which has deluded white people into thinking that they are superior and that if a black person is shot by police, he or she deserved it, is a sickness. It is a mental illness, and those afflicted, need help and treatment. To think that any family would be satisfied with money after losing a child, is the height of arrogance and racism.

It is insulting and is, frankly, a troubling …candid observation.

When Leadership Feeds Hatred

It occurs to me that the vast number of police officers are not bad people.
It is highly possible that many officers, who come to the force when they are very young, and most of whom are white, grow up in environments where they are told that black people are bad, that they are to be feared.

I thought of that possibility when I was in Palestine; a red sign appears in areas of Palestine that are under Israeli control and the sign says that the area is inhabited by Palestinians and that Israelis are not allowed to enter.

These Palestinians, the sign says, are dangerous.

Let’s face it: the narrative on black people in this nation is not good. It’s not true …but it’s not good. The spin given is that white people need to be on guard with black people because they are bad. The assumption is that black people are naturally and inherently bad. The best course of action is, then, subliminally shared: they are the “enemy” which should be taken out.

Police recruits are, for the most part, very young, some just out of high school. Many come from rural areas or suburbs where they have had little to no interaction with black people. They really are scared of black people because all they know is what they have heard from their families, their churches, the media, and television.

The line used by officers to justify excessive force is, “I was in fear for my life,” and I would wager that for many, that is true, regardless of the circumstances. The killings of John Crawford and Tamir Rice – two young black men in the state of Ohio – came from officers who did not take the time to converse with them, which would have enabled them to understand that the “weapons” these two young men had were actually toys. The officer who killed Laquan McDonald, similarly, shot first and asked questions only after he had pumped 16 bullets into the child as he lay on the ground.

Be clear: many officers are not afraid; they use the phrase to justify their actions and in effect commit murders that they know they can get away with. Those are rogue cops who should be identified and fired. The silence of their superiors as these cops commit offense after offense is a travesty; these officers are no less worthy of staying on the force than were priests who for years molested children and were allowed to remain in their parishes or be sent to new parishes, only to repeat the objectionable behavior.

Leadership has to be brave and above societal prejudices, which is too often not the case. Unfortunately, in too many cases, leadership has been more interested in saving face and maintaining power and control than in admitting wrong and making tough decisions and choices.

There are, however, a fair number of officers who are sincerely afraid. They do not know black people. They do not talk to or with black people except in the worst of circumstances. Fear makes us all act in ways we normally wouldn’t. Officers who are afraid approach black people like they are “the enemy,” no less dangerous than an “enemy” in a combat zone, and the action demanded, based on the fear, is to take the enemy “out” before he or she takes the officer out.

If or since fear is such a big part of white American culture, and since the majority of police officers are white, it seems that police procedures and training ought to significantly change. It seems that leadership should see and understand what is going on and include in police officer training some cultural immersion, or some other training, that mandates that officers get to know as human beings the people with whom they will interact once they get out into the community. There ought to be stringent requirements for the officers to meet, internships, if you will, with the young recruits getting to know black people by name, getting to understand African-American culture and values, before they get a gun and are sent onto the streets. There ought to be continuing education courses, so that the officers’ community relations skills are constantly improved upon …and so they can share with fellow officers and incoming recruits what it is like on the streets, what the people are like, as opposed to what they assume to be the case.

It is an unfortunate fact that the way policing is done in America, treating black people as “enemies” requiring a military approach, has a historical reputation. Black people were never considered to be “people,” but, rather “objects” and pieces of property. When, during slavery, they managed to escape, “the law” went after them with the full sanction of government, to shoot to kill if they did not surrender willingly. The Fugitive Slave Acts allowed the hunting and capturing of African slaves in any way their hunters wanted because they were, in fact, considered to be property and not worthy of humane treatment. The added incentive was that if the captor did in fact catch an escaped African, he was many times deserving of a monetary award. Our history has bled mercilessly into our present.

But, history aside, the slaughter of innocent and unarmed black people needs to stop. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the justifying phrase, “I was in fear for my life,” as maddening as it is, is a truism for many young officers…as much as it is an excuse for rogue cops to murder people in the name of law and order.

An examination of cases involving police shootings of black people reveals that that dreaded line is used over and over, and it has been the case that if an officer has perceived danger, and has said he or she was afraid, the case is closed and the shooting is ruled justifiable.

It is time for police policy and procedure to be examined and changed, with the result that these young kids with guns can lose their fear and do the job they are called to do – to protect and serve – not to kill indiscriminately.

And it is time for rogue cops – who are not afraid, but who know they can use that sentence and get away with murder – to be identified and weeded out. We don’t need legal murders any more than we need molestation of children done in the name of God.

A candid observation …

When Nobody Cares About Your Tears

This is the day before Thanksgiving, and I can’t help thinking about the parents of slain children …whose Thanksgiving tables will be sprinkled with tears.

Some of us in this nation are wresting with the shooting death of LaQuan McDonald by a white police officer. I will not lift his name up; he seems not to deserve as much. The video released on LaQuan’s shooting has shaken me to my core. (http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/25/us/laquan-mcdonald-chicago-shooting-main/)

But I am resonating with the parents of LaQuan, as I have been resonating with the parents of all of the young, unarmed black people who have been shot and killed by police officers, mostly white, and who have not been held accountable.

I began mourning in earnest with these parents and family members when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. When Zimmerman was acquitted, I wept. Sybrina Fulton was a tower of grace and strength, but her heart as a mother had to have been in tatters. Mine was, and Trayvon was not my son.

With every death of black people by police officers, mostly white, where those officers have been let off, my tears have increased. I keep thinking of Rev. Martin Luther King’s sermon where he asked, “How long? Not long!” Dr. King said the arc of the universe was (is) long but it bends toward justice.

The arc is very, very long.

What is bothersome is that only the tears of some people seem to matter. The tears of the Parisians, in reaction to the terror attack, seem to matter, but the tears of the people in Beirut and Africa, where terrorist attacks also took place, the one in Beirut only the day before the Paris debacle,  were not so covered.

It was like their tears…didn’t matter.

It seems that the tears of black and brown people really seem not to matter as much as do the tears of white people.  It feels that way. A parent is a parent; a mother is a mother; a woman who carries a baby goes through the same painful labor no matter her race or ethnicity. Yet …only the tears of the white mothers, the white survivors of terror, seem to matter.

Is that the result of the dehumanization and criminalization of black and brown people? One woman on my Facebook page said it was natural that the coverage of the terror in Paris was as it has been because “those people are people with whom we share values.” Or some such …But her statement floored me. Isn’t the pain of human beings, all human beings, worthy of respect?

Today, the families of so many young black people are mourning, but I am not sure that their tears matter, and that is an issue.

What happens when nobody cares about your tears? Langston Hughes asked what happens to a dream, deferred? There are consequences. Painful and often explosive consequences.

A painful, candid observation