[This is the third of 365 posts in 2016. You may not want to read any more of them after this.]
Tamir Rice should still be alive. That he was killed is a crime. That his killer has gotten away with it is an obscenity.
Let me go through all the motions here. I’m a fat white guy in my 50’s. I was raised in the south. I’ve heard the jokes and I’ve seen and heard what goes on when there aren’t any black folks around. You think “I’m not racists but…” is bad? Try being in a room full of good old boys and being a fat white guy. I appear to be “one of us.” I hear shit. It’s to my eternal shame I’ve not spoken up more. The impetus behind #blacklivesmatter isn’t a big mystery to me. The fact that the whole nation hasn’t collectively thrown up at what happened in Cleveland pretty much proves the point.
You’ve seen the video. If you haven’t, watch it:
On what planet does the human perceptual system allow someone to reasonably assume there is a danger in the time we see elapse on this video? And yes, I’m taking the slow frame rate of the video into account. We know how fast Officer Tim Lehmann managed to get off a shot. Do we want anyone making life and death decisions in that length of time? He came in locked an loaded. And Tamar Rice had a toy gun.
Officer Lehmann didn’t know that. He should have, but that’s not on him. Given the fact that young Mr. Rice was supposedly just bringing the object out of his belt when he was shot, it seems very, very unlikely he’d have been able to raise it, aim it with any accuracy and pull the trigger in the amount of time necessary for the officer to take non-lethal measures to protect himself. There was time. The fact that Officer Lehmann didn’t give him that time is a mistake. A crime, actually. No one can make a life-death-decision that fast. No one. As a society we shouldn’t be encouraging that. It’s not reasonable.
And let’s not even start on on why we’re talking about split-second reaction time in the first place. What in the name of all that’s holy was that cruiser doing that damned close to someone who could wind up being an active shooter? Last time I looked when the fire department shows up to a fire they kind of stand back a little bit for just a second. See what’s going on. Figure out how to apply their training to the situation in front of them. Sure, they eventually send someone through the front door with a hose, but it’s not the first step.
There was one Tamir Rice. Unless you’re an officer in a very, very, very small town you already know the kid is outnumbered the minute the call went out. A reasonable officer would have acted like that. You inherently have the advantage. You can give the perp plenty of opportunities to walk away alive. If you want to. When I was growing up, my dad — who had a bit of a troubled history with the police in his youth — had a saying: “You can outrun the cops. You can’t outrun their radios.” There’s an asymmetry of information availability that (thankfully) favors the police.
If only they’d acted that way…
It’s like George Carlin’s notion to Catholic sin: You gotta wanna:
‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!
It was a sin for you to wanna feel up Ellen. It was a sin for you to plan to feel up Ellen. It was a sin for you to figure out a place to feel up Ellen. It was a sin to take Ellen to the place to feel her up. It was a sin to try to feel her up and it was a sin to feel her up. There were six sins in one feel, man!
There’s a bunch of blah-blah-blah about how it’s routine for police officers to overestimate the age of African-American boys. That’s noise that doesn’t mean anything. You know what? African-American boys can’t do a damned thing about being an African-American boy, but a police officer can sure as hell be trained not to assume that every African-American boy is going to shoot them. That’s pretty tough when when the assumption in white society seems to be that they do. Hey fellow white guys: you go out of your way to avoid black people. How in the holy hell do you think you know what “they’re” thinking?
I actually believe the trope that no police officers get out of bed wanting too shoot anyone. Do police officers think the same of African-American boys? If the Cuyahoga prosecutor is to be believed, it doesn’t matter if they do or if they don’t.
I think it does.
If it matters what the officer feared, why doesn’t it matter what a young black man feared when he decided to become a corner boy? Why doesn’t it matter what the young woman feared when she turned to tricks to pay the bills? What reality makes meth and crack seem like the better option?
And why doesn’t it matter what a 12-year-old kid thought he was doing when he played with an Airsoft toy gun without its orange tip?
“You can’t know what it’s like,”
Really? How far are you willing to take that? Where do we draw the line? Why? When do circumstances matter? When do they stop mattering? Who decides? Your answer says more about you than it does of any objective reality. It describes quite precisely what you fear.
What you fear defines you. If you let it.
Given that I live in Cincinnati I can’t think about this case without thinking of Officer Sonny Kim. On June 19, 2015 he died from a gunshot wound in the line of duty when a young man who he knew apparently tried to commit suicide-by-cop. Or was just pissed off at life. Or something. Officer Kim didn’t pull the trigger when he might have. He was also working from incomplete information. The troubled young man who killed Officer Kim was killed a few seconds later. The loss of any life is never to be celebrated, but the officer who fired that time had no other choice. This isn’t in question. He was clearly going to keep shooting.
I do not — and you do not — know what Sonny Kim did or did not think when he pulled a Taser instead of his gun. I consider the man a hero. “No greater love hath any man than to lay down his life for his brother.” Officer Kim did not get out of bed wanting to shoot anyone that morning. He didn’t pull the trigger and he paid a terrible price. One far, far higher than I, or anyone, would have asked. Every person in this community, myself included, have an obligation to his widow and children to honor his heroism by making their burden as light as humanly possible. It’s said that courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s knowing fear and doing the right thing anyway, Putting on the uniform doesn’t make you a hero. Having to wear a bulletproof vest to work doesn’t make you a hero. Being heroic makes you a hero. I know that’s not popular and it’s going to piss people off, but I don’t care any more.
Sonny Kim is a hero. He didn’t pull the trigger when he would have been justified to do so and died as a result. I wish he were still alive. The world would be a much better place with him in it. Google him. The guy was amazing. I want every police officer to be tactically defensive, and use lethal force when it’s the only option to preserve their own lives and the lives of fellow human beings. Human beings who happen to be police officers AND those who aren’t. I do not want to give badges to people who want carte blanche to deal with “those people” (whomever they they think those people are) by treating them as disposable.
There have been police officers gunned down recently without warning or cause. There is a special place in hell for the people who think that’s somehow “right” or “justice.” It’s not. I was a classmate of this man’s daughter. I saw what that senseless murder meant at a very young age. To this day I still say a prayer for him and for her.
And yeah, I’m still pissed off about what happened to Tamir Rice.
Officer Lehmann pulled the trigger when he didn’t’ have to. He is not a hero. He is a criminal. He was afraid of something. But what he feared wasn’t what was in front of him. A 12-year old boy with a toy gun was in front of him.
Sure. All lives matter. Black lives matter just as much as white ones. Tamar Rice’s life matters every bit as much as Officer Lehmann’s. Officer Lehmann didn’t act as if it did.
If you don’t understand that, you’re part of the problem.