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No Justice for Tamir Rice


It was announced today that the two police officers who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death will not be indicted. Not for a misdemeanor, not for a minor felony, not for a serious felony. Nothing.

Per the Washington Post:

In announcing the decision Monday, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said he did not recommend that the grand jury bring any charges and added that he believes both of the Cleveland police officers involved in the deadly encounter were reasonable in their belief that Rice had a real weapon. “The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it,” McGinty said. “Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police.”

Note that a prosecutor declining to “recommend” charges, we should know by now means no indictment was ever going to happen. Prosecutors get the indictments they ask for, and when they don’t ask, they don’t get.

McGinty suggests that it’s a combination of “human error, mistakes and miscommunication” that resulted in Rice’s death–as if this is meant to excuse behavior that, if a civilian perpetrated it, it would unequivocally be considered murder.

Since Rice was gunned down by Cleveland police, the Cleveland police department, assisted by local news media and the prosecutor’s office, smeared both Rice and his family.

Tamir Rice, sadly, is not an isolated case. The Guardian, in response to the epidemic of police killings in the US, records a database of those killed by police. Black people are killed at twice the rate of white people. As of this writing, 1125 people have been killed by the police in the US this year. The current numbers are almost evenly split between white deaths and non-white deaths–563 to 562. This is statistically significant considering that non-Hispanic white people are about 63% of the population. That we make up just about half (rather than closer to 63%) of the police killings illustrates an obvious disparity. This is hardly news, of course, but it always bears repeating.

It’s interesting how police face so little accountability for their actions. In almost any other profession, directly causing the death of another person, intentionally or otherwise, brings severe–often criminal–consequences. Doctors who accidentally kill patients can lose their licenses or even go to prison. We don’t tolerate wanton killing of citizens in any other context (leaving aside actual combat), but for some reason it’s tolerated from police. One could speculate as to the reasons, though it seems likely that if it was white people being disproportionately killed by police, something would be done about it with far more urgency and efficacy. Indeed, police are more hesitant to pull the trigger on white suspects, somethings allowing an armed white person to menace people for hours with deadly weapons, whereas in similar circumstances (but with a black suspect), police swiftly rush in, guns blazing.

These issues are frankly beyond debate at this point. The numbers are clear. The glut of news stories are clear, as well. Some may claim it’s not racism, but poverty, or black culture, or whatever it is they might choose to blame without looking at the underlying cause, which is a historically (and presently) racist system in which police generally give white suspects a wide berth, but don’t hesitate to put down black suspects who fail to comply quickly enough (if they are even given a chance to do so). This is a country where black neighbors get the police called on them, suspected of being burglars. Such stories are virtually unheard of among white people, but they are commonplace in the black community: being pulled over for nebulous or non-existent cause (“driving while black”), being hassled on the street for no justified reason, being suspected of breaking into their own homes, being mistaken for kitchen help when you’re actually a CEO. Not all of these situations are equally dangerous, but they all point to the same pattern of racist assumptions and behaviors in which black people are automatically viewed in a negative or degrading light by white authorities and the white civilians who uphold them. It’s easy to make excuses when police gun down Tamir Rice or another boy who looks like him. It’s harder to examine the systemic and institutional causes, to which we all contribute in one way or another.

White people shouldn’t care about this because we are in danger from police. The reality of the situation is that, unless we’re obviously putting other people’s lives in danger, we have very little reason to expect police violence against us. Just pulling the latest example of a white person killed by police, according to The Guardian, it was a young man who’d just participated in an armed robbery and did not disarm himself when he encountered police. Shooting a suspect in such a situation is at least understandable. The most recent police killing a black person on the list was of a 19-year-old holding a baseball bat during a domestic altercation. A neighbor was “accidentally” shot and killed by police during the same incident. Not a lot of details are available at this point, but those stories are different enough to help make the point: white people don’t often get shot by police while unarmed or holding something like a baseball bat. As far as I know, no one’s gone through The Guardian’s database to attempt to separate shootings on the basis of how justified they may be–that would be an interesting effort to undertake, and I might do so at some point in the future, as it isn’t hard to see clear differences in how black (and other non-white) suspects are treated vs. white ones.

So, white people should be invested in this, not because of personal stakes for ourselves–indeed, we have the most to gain by simply remaining silent and doing nothing–but because it’s the right thing to do. People are dying needlessly due to the color of their skin, at the hands of authorities we have empowered to do it. It’s easy to turn a blind eye, or even outright defend it. But there is no better time to face up to these problems than right now, as national attention is gaining momentum and those who have been abused and killed over the decades are finally being discovered by mainstream–by white–America.