By RA Washington
“People can cry much easier than they can change.”
– James Baldwin
Three days after Christmas — and after just over a year of investigations, debate, vitriol, scandal, community inaction, demonstrations, failed speeches, and deplorable institutional racism — the Grand Jury of Cuyahoga County accepted County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s recommendation and declined to indict Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback for murder in the 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
We know the details of the case, we have seen the video footage, we have silently counted the seconds from the police car pulling up and Tamir being shot, and we have marveled as the media too marked the time between the patrol car pulling up and the time we see Tamir fall. Maybe you have participated in the numerous vigils, marches, protests, and community talks surrounding his death. Maybe you have held fundraisers in support of the police officers. Maybe you have secretly thought it to be Tamir’s parents’ fault. Maybe you have used his death to advance your own agenda. The grim and unshakeable reality is that under the law the shooting of Tamir Rice was a reasonable and justified use of force. This was not a murder.
Let that sink in. Tamir’s death was Reasonable. Justified.
During the perfectly timed 2 pm press conference yesterday, Prosecutor McGinty referred to Tamir’s death as a tragedy, and there is no doubt that on this particular count McGinty is correct. Tamir’s death is tremendously tragic, but the use of the word rings hollow from McGinty’s mouth. His recommendation and the grand jury’s decision to decline to indict derive from a close reading of constitutional law, not a reasonable one.
Let that sink in. Tamir’s death was Reasonable. Justified.
There were at least a dozen scenarios that could have prevented Tamir from being shot on November 22, 2014. An obvious one would be for the patrol car to slow down some ten feet from the gazebo and open the patrol doors in a defensive posture, to be able to communicate with “20-year-old black male” more efficiently. This did not happen. None of the scenarios that we create to make this killing make sense will bring Tamir back.
What is clear for many is that there are two Americas. One expects reason to rule the day, and the other knows there is no such thing as reasonable. One America would never think in a million years that police would kill a child, and the other knows their children are never safe, not from the police, not at their schools, not in their neighborhoods, not in the media. Black children do not get to be children. Our boys are men. When confronted we present a reasonable case to use Constitutionally justified force to subdue a dangerous threat to their safety.
I do not know what it is like to fear children. I will never know what makes a person see a 20-year-old man when looking at a 12-year-old boy. I know boys are not men, and it took a tremendous amount of luck for me to make it to manhood. You have to know, growing old is a gift, and now Tamir will not get the glorious chance to grow up.
But these words are not about pointing a finger at the justice system; if there is a doubt that it is flawed beyond reform then my words will not change your mind. This is not about the disconnect between police and community, for the evidence is all around us if we choose to look. This is not about black lives mattering, because they always have. We have chosen to look the other way for so long that all we can muster when forced to look is shock, disbelief. All we can do is moan, and shake our heads.
These words are not about justice for the just do not rule the day. The day is ruled by fear. The simple fact is Officer Timothy Loehmann was afraid; Cudell Recreation is located in a community that is touched by violence every day, that is filled with stories of neglect, sorrow, and tragedy. Officer Loehmann was afraid, and he chose his safety, his family, over reason.
Our city officials, and Department of Police abused the public trust, and put our safety in the hands of a man who lives in fear.
What is clear is that there is nothing reasonable about killing children. Our ability to see ourselves and each other as human beings will be the only thing that will save us.
What is clear is that there is nothing reasonable about killing children. Our ability to see ourselves and each other as human beings will be the only thing that will save us. Not for the purposes of some failed utopia, but because children should not be killed by police. We have gone too far, we have allowed our difference to condone the killing of children. It is we who die today, but what happens when the society frays to the point where we are afraid of all children, not just black boys? What happens if the society continues to jail and murder our black bodies to extinction? We have allowed capital to rule the day, and have commoditized punishment. Law and order can be bought, it is a machine, its fuel is our black body. The machine will not stop, slaughter has become big business. Nothing stops big business. Do you not see how blurred the line is becoming?
Close your eyes and picture Tamir. There are hundreds of pictures of him floating through cyberspace, you could not go a day for a year where you didn’t see that boy’s sweet, sweet face. Those chubby kid cheeks, brown sugar plums, turned up in a smile so bright that it could light up a room. Children should get to be kids. Children are supposed to be safe in our parks, we are supposed to protect them. Do you see him? Now dry the last of your tears, your disbelief, for as Mr. James Baldwin said fifty-plus years ago — “it’s easier to cry than it is to be change.”
Tamir deserves more than tears. Our boys, our children, deserve more than tears.
RA Washington is a writer and community worker living on Cleveland’s west side.
Banner photo of Tamir Rice memorial outside the Cudell Recreation Center by William Rickman.