One particular memory has been swimming in my head since the murder of Tamir Rice, on November 23, 2014. I remember back when I was 12 I was giving my parents the most vivid form of hell I could give them, in an effort to get an airsoft gun. At the time, all my friends had one. Make no mistake these are replica firearms, marketed and sold legally, as toys. I worked hard, and eventually that hard work somehow paid off and I got a gas-powered MP9-A7H, equipped with a scope, laser, and a flashlight. The only thing signifying that it was a “toy” was the orange tip: which like all of my friends, I broke off on day one. We were essentially a bunch of kids running around suburban Denver, Colorado with what could easily have been mistaken for real, high powered weaponry.
The reason this memory is stuck in my head should be fairly obvious: I was a 12 year old black boy, with what an untrained eye might have mistaken for a real gun. I could very well be dead. It’s not that I should be, instead it’s the fact that Tamir shouldn’t be.
When the announcement was made that no charges would be brought against the shooting officer, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty called his death “a perfect storm of human error.” So I ask: How can you acknowledge error, yet clear Officer Timothy Loehmann of any wrongdoing? To make matters worse, Prosecutor McGinty seemed almost a tad proud when he admitted in the press conference that he had recommended to the jury that no indictment be made. McGinty sounded more like a defense attorney for the accused than a county prosecutor charged with seeking justice on behalf of county residents.
One thing, however, is becoming ever clearer in the midst of movements against police brutality, and the never ending mantra of “NO INDICTMENT”: Black lives only matter if they’re profitable. We’ve seen countless instances of black victims turned into black “aggressors” who “have their own actions to blame” for their deaths – media be thanked. More so, we’ve seen the criminalization of the very existence of the black man, and the same in rising measure for black women.
Just recently, Elaine Rothenberg of North Carolina, a white woman, stood in front of the employee entrance to a police precinct in Torrington, Connecticut, armed with a BB gun not dissimilar from Tamir Rice’s gun. She even later admitted to having purchased the gun because of “how real it looked.” When confronted by police officers, she assumed a “shooting stance” and began yelling threats and obscenities at the officers while aiming the replica weapon right at them. But, for some peculiar reason, her story ends without incident. No pepper spray, no baton, no taser, no bullet. What exactly was the difference here? She didn’t “appear to be an adult black male” — as the media, the Cleveland Police Department, and even the county prosecutor love to describe 12-year-old Tamir.
The only problem is this: Even if Tamir were an adult black male with a real gun, based on what was shown from surveillance cameras, he still committed no crime being that Ohio is an open carry state. Clearly, being black and male warrants immediate suspicion, lack of concern, mistrust, and use of force and/or intimidation.
It’s quite ironic, but somewhere overseas, a mother is calling U.S. forces “terrorists,” because she lost a child, or children, to an airstrike, and never received so much as an acknowledgement. Meanwhile, here on U.S. soil, mothers are basically told that somehow, their child deserved to die, either as a result of their own actions, or “a perfect storm of human error,” followed by a generic apology, and maybe a check. The shooter, if he has a badge, still goes on to be recognized for some delusion of heroism, and may even receive more money in donations than the victim’s family gets in a settlement.
Terrorism is defined by the U.S. federal government as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” If there were any question as to whether white supremacy rules our justice system, media, and more, I would hope the events of the past couple of years in particular clear the confusion. Plain and simple: white supremacy is a system – in essence, a social objective. The abuse, intimidation, and gang-like mentality held by many members of law enforcement should be called what it is at some point: “Terrorism” against a segment of people identified as minorities in this country.
White supremacy is at the very tip and tail end of the issue of police brutality against black people, and minorities in general. White supremacy is the very system which engineered the fear, the blatant criminalization of the black male image. Fear mongering, imbalanced narratives, and a negative portrayal of blacks in a white owned and operated media created and maintain the “kill or be killed” frame of thought which ultimately leads to shoot first-ask later incidents such as the murder of Tamir Rice. The response to community anger by members of law enforcement over the past year and a half, the criminalization of peaceful protests, the intimidation and antagonizing of citizens voicing their concerns and demands mirror that of the very tyrannical regimes the United States claims to crusade against.
Tamir Rice’s murder wasn’t simply an “accident,” but a meeting place of some of the worst symptoms of a deeply unhealthy society.
Just like countless black men and women before him, and more after him, Tamir Rice lost his life while committing no crime, with no warning, and even less remorse. The response of the Cleveland Police Department, The City of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County shows that their motivation is not public service, but self-preservation. The message is clear: If you’re a police officer accused of murder, the fountain of excuses will never run dry for you.
The cookie cutter response of the “justice system” to the increasing number of police killings of unarmed civilians shows that nobody is willing to accept the blame when it comes to black lives lost. Tamir Rice committed no crime, made no threat – Timothy Loehmann gave no warning, just pulled the trigger with no provocation. Tamir Rice was a victim of manslaughter at the very least, and now he’s another victim of modern day lynching – no rope necessary, with the whole world watching.
Anas White is a 24-year-old Muslim, artist, writer, activist, and MuslimARC memeber with a deep-rooted interest in race relations particularly as it pertains to members of the African diaspora, religious pluralism, and African spirituality.