How Do We Make People Care?

This week in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a 13-year old boy. Tyre King was apparently involved in an armed robbery; the amount stolen is said to have been $10, but that has not been confirmed. Young Tyre had a BB gun that looks remarkably real, even having a laser light on it that real guns have. Police apparently saw the gun and fired; only after Tyre lay dead did they realize the gun was not real. (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tyre-king-13-fatally-shot-police-columbus-ohio-n648671)

Columbus authorities responded immediately, the mayor, police chief and public safety director holding a press conference the next day, and the day after that, meeting with faith leaders and finally showing up at a community forum at a local church. (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/17/community-city-officials-talk-about-death-of-tyre-king.html). The pain of the community was and is palpable. The cry is, “enough!”

What was striking to me in everything that happened was the attempt of the police chief to make sure people in the community knew that this child was “an armed suspect,” though the gun was not real. In her press conference, Police Chief Kim Jacobs went to great pains to describe the gun, showing a large picture of what the gun looked like and only after all of that, say the child’s name and remind people that the gun was not real.

But the damage was done.

What Chief Jacobs appeared to be doing was protecting her police officer and trying to quell any violence borne of frustration that might erupt on Columbus streets, the kind of frustration that we have seen in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. No city wants that experience on its hands. Columbus has spent a lot of money in revitalizing and the last thing people want is some angry group of people setting fires and fighting police.

I get it. And I don’t want the violence, either.

But it hurt to the core to hear this woman dehumanize and criminalize young King in that press conference. For those who believe police can do no wrong, Jacobs’ presentation made them rest in their assurance that what happened to King was his own fault.  As she talked, the chief kept talking about there being an investigation and said that the case would go to the grand jury …but her entire presentation showed a lack of sensitivity to what the pain of the black community is all about.

We don’t trust police investigations; we know, or feel, that the laws in place protect police at all costs, so that even when we, the community, feel like a video shows compelling evidence of police wrongdoing, the officer more likely than not gets off. We don’t trust the grand jury and we don’t trust the prosecutor. We feel like it is open season on black people, male and female, and that this nation doesn’t care about our feeling that at all.

As Jacobs spoke, I kept remembering how, when Michael Brown was shot, the police kept that young man lying on the hot pavement in his neighborhood, dead, while they compiled a report about who he was and what he had done. Before his body was moved, they had criminalized him and left the way clear for Officer Darren Wilson to be cleared of wrongdoing.

Jacobs was seemingly doing the same thing: criminalizing this little boy ( because that’s what he was) so that the officer would not be demonized.

The mayor, the public safety director and the police chief kept talking about there needing to be “transparency,” but even as I write this, nobody knows what really happened. The police in Columbus do not wear body cameras, and everyone knows that in a case where a civilian’s word is pitted against the word of a police officer, the civilian usually loses.

And so Columbus, a city that the mayor said is “the safest city in the world,” is reeling with pain and frustration and anger. There is no sensitivity to the pain. In this, an open carry state, King is the second person to be killed carrying a BB gun. John Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in 2014. Crawford was carrying the gun in the store and someone called police and said he was waving it around. Police arrived immediately and say they told him to drop the gun, but began shooting even as Crawford said it was a toy. Crawford was killed.

Then there was Tamir Rice who was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer. Timothy Loehmann. Rice also had a BB gun. Someone called and said a kid had a gun that he was waving around, but apparently also said that it was probably a toy. Police responded to the call and within three seconds of driving up on Tamir, probably scaring him to death. police shot him. He died later in a local hospital. The officer said he had no choice.

Neither Crawford or Rice were criminals. They were young black men with toy guns – which is legal. They were not bothering anyone. And yet, the judgements against them could be heard loud and clear; their actions, the sentiment seemed to say, caused them to die.

There is much we do not know about what happened to young King. What we do know is that he was a kid. A 13-year old boy. Probably a know-it-all, like adolescents and teens tend to be. His parents may have bought him that toy gun, but may not have; he may have gotten it off the street or from a friend. He had probably seen “the big boys” carry real guns and imitated them. We live in a gun culture, a violent gun culture where “defending yourself” is a standard-bearer. He was probably trying to fit in with his peers. Kid stuff. Things that kids do in seeking love, affirmation and a sense of belonging. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people …but he was a kid. A normal kid in a society which does not allow black kids to be normal like white kids are allowed.

This kid, this little boy, is dead. I cannot wrap my head around it. I see in my mind’s eye his little body lying lifeless in an alley, and I hear the cries of his family and loved ones, weeping with a pain that is too deep to even describe.

Many who believe police are right all of the time don’t get it. While police lives are important, so are the lives of the victims of police. Someone said King shouldn’t have run when police showed up. True. But everyone who has ever been a kid and has been involved in something wrong has run when “the grown folks” have shown up.

It’s what kids do.

How do we make people care? How do we get white people, those who are so ready to demonize black people, care about black people on a human level, relating to the things that humans do when they do not feel loved, supported, affirmed and/or needed? I’ll bet this kid was trying to fit in, trying to have friends, trying in his 13-year-old way to find meaning in his life. He may have been getting ready to go down a path of crime, or he may have been involved in one stupid episode…that cost him his life.

There are a lot of things to think about in this case, but I am hoping that authorities will look at this boy as just that … a boy who did something dumb and not as someone who deserved to die.

He didn’t.

A candid observation ….

Police an Uneducated Lot

I have struggled for a while, trying to “explain” what I have long observed: the vast majority of police officers are young, white men…with little more than a high school education.

Not only that. Many of them come from all-white environments; many have never known a black person before they come onto their respective police forces. All they have are the myths about black people that were begun long ago and which are perpetuated by their families, their churches, the media.

They come onto the force thinking black people are just bad.

And because they know few, if any, black people, they come on the force afraid. Black people are an “unknown” that they have been taught should be feared.

Honestly, I think that’s where the impulse to shoot first and ask questions later comes from. White people in general in this nation have been taught that black people are bad; that’s called “criminalization.” And they have been taught, albeit subliminally in many cases, that black people are less than human. That’s called “dehumanization.”

But there is something about our law enforcement system that has been ignored: these young guys (and women) have very little education. They are not made to take sociology or psychology. They are not made to study the history of police relations with minorities. They are not required to be licensed, like a psychologist or doctor or teacher.

They simply go to the police academy. They go through a kind of basic training. They are physically fit, yes. But they are lacking in social skills. They are not taught about the neighborhoods into which they will venture. They are made physically fit; they pass the qualifying exam, then are given a badge and a gun. They are given permission to kill. And they do, largely because they are afraid.

They DO put their lives in jeopardy, but they put the lives of black, brown and poor people into jeopardy as well. They do not know us, black people. They do not know how our parents have struggled to make a living – much like their parents did. They do not know, do not believe, that black people have “family values.” They just know what they have been taught: that black people, especially black men, are bad news.

Georg Wilhelm Frederich Hegel, a popular and widely studied Western philosopher and theologian, wrote something that made my spirit roll up. He wrote: “It is the essential principle of slavery that man has not yet attained self-consciousness of his freedom, and consequently sinks down to a mere Thing – an object of no value. Among Negroes moral sentiments are weak or, more strictly, non-existent.” (The Philosophy of History). 

Black people were not humans; they were things, and he, a person who theologians and teachers and preachers would turn for knowledge, would write much that supported the notion that black people were inhuman. He wrote, “What signify these races to us? Who cares particularly for the Negro, or Hottentot or the Kaffir – Destined by the nature of their race to run, like animals, a certain limited course of existence, it matters little how their extinction is brought about.”

How in the world can the white race, burdened as it is by such racist underpinnings, be expected to rise above that – except that they be educated? The history is there. We are not taught it in school, but it is there. It is undeniable. It is there, in black and white, stories of how white people have systematically, and with government and law enforcement support,  decimated, killed and harassed black people in this nation. To our credit, we have not given up …but the struggle has been immense.

What would be the difference in police departments if the new recruits HAD to take sociology, psychology, history? What would be the difference in their behavior as they learned the critical difference between myth and reality? I would bet that for some, the fear would be abated. At the worst, they would go into black communities armed not only with guns…but with knowledge. The mere presence of black people might not terrify them so much. They might listen …and not attack, as they are so often wont to do.

Education does something to one’s spirit. It sucks up ignorance and makes room for growth. It opens eyes and provides answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.

Police officers, young white boys just out of high school, need to be educated.

A candid observation …

Ms. Sully Didn’t Have to Die

So, let me understand this.

Police in Hearne, Texas, were called to a residence where a 93-year-old woman was supposedly wielding a gun.

Her name was Pearlie Golden…and she had lived in Hearne for mpst of her life.

And oh yes…she was a black woman, shot by a white police officer.

Police got to her residence and told her “at least three times” to put down her firearm. Apparently, she didn’t, and so police opened fire on her, hitting her multiple times. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/07/us/texas-police-shoot-elderly-woman-93/index.html?hpt=hp_t2).

She was transported to a local hospital, where she later died.

I am trying to understand, to make sense out of this, but for the life of me, I cannot.

Why in the world…would a police officer shoot to kill a 93-year-old woman?

“Miss Sully,” as her community and relatives called her, was angry supposedly because one of her relatives had taken car keys from her. She wanted to drive; her relative didn’t think it was wise, and so took the keys.

That happens a lot, I hear, as people age; they get angry as those who love them take away their independence bit by bit, for their own good. Ms. Sully wasn’t a criminal. She was an old woman who wanted to drive her car.

The officer who allegedly fired the fatal shots has been put on “administrative leave.” That’s normal police procedure …and far too often, “the facts” found out by police investigators rule that the homicide was “justifiable” and the officer is given back his/her gun and goes right back out to the streets.

Just this week, the country, no, the world, was outraged as the words of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling were played over and over. His racist remarks were “shocking,” people said, but I doubt it.

What was shocking is that he was exposed publicly. He was an embarrassment. People all over the world are racist; they like their racism kept under wraps, though.

Would that police officers in this nation, who shoot first and ask questions later would be so exposed as was Mr. Sterling and be embarrassed or that police departments would get uncomfortable or embarrassed enough to do something. Would that the community called America would stand up and say, out loud, to police, that they have to stop these modern-day lynchings.

“Ms. Sully’s” death is an outrage, and the fact that police all over the country are allowed to keep murdering people at will is an outrage as well.

The bigger outrage, though, is the silence of the people, the refusal to do something to get someone to look at these murders and force change, some kind of way, in the way police in America do business.

Officer Stephen Stem, who hasn’t been on the police force all that long, is still getting paid, though he’s on administrative leave. He’s waiting for that investigation…which, if trends are followed, will probably find that what he did was okay, was correct policy and procedure.

I don’t believe in police investigations anymore. I stopped a long time ago. Police protect their own.

Ms. Sully didn’t have to die. I would bet someone could have talked that weapon out of her hand.

Yep, I’m mad.

This happens way too often …and nobody really seems to care.

A candid observation …