The shooting of Tamir Rice on November 22, when the news first broke, was awful but, if I’m honest, it didn’t stand out for me. During the Winter of 2014, it felt like the country was overwhelmed in stories of excessive violence being dealt out by cops to the individuals they were sworn to protect. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. John Crawford III. Ezell Ford. Another black male, not counting the women who had been slain, this time in Cleveland, Ohio, had fallen victim. Tamir had been playing with a toy gun in a local park when two officers pulled up to him, took a literal two seconds to evaluate the situation and fired two bullets. But this story needed to be different because Tamir was a child. He was only 12-years-old when he was killed.
It’s been over a year since Tamir was killed and the grand jury convened chose not to indict Officers Timothy Loehmann, who fired the two fatal shots, or Frank Garmback, who was driving the patrol car at the time. To this date, no charges have been filed against Loehmann nor Garmback. Instead, the city of Cleveland sued the Rice family for past due charges— $500 for emergency medical services. I'll let you simmer in the rage and feelings of injustice that I felt finding this out. The city has since decided to “absorb” the charges….
One of the problems has to be that when some folks look at my people, I don't think they see endless potential—potential to be either the greatest this or that or the worst something or other. Instead, they see something less than human. Other. Different than themselves. Less than. Not deserving of compassion. And that hurts me to depths that I don't think I could have contemplated when I was younger.
I spoke to a group of students a few weeks ago as part of an informal workshop at a local high school. These young women were part of the Girls Who Code organization that they'd started from the ground up and wanted to hear more about how I got to be where I am. These students were impressive! They were doing things with their young lives and I was so proud to know how hard they had worked to get where they were but I was also sad. Because most of these young women are women of color and that will continue to mark their lives -- place them in the path of violence just for existing. The other thing that struck me was how young these high schoolers all looked. I had somehow convinced myself that walking down the halls, I could be mistaken for one of them...definitely not. There was just too much innocence in their faces; that and gangly arms and legs. Acne! There was a gulf in age several miles across between them and me. So the claim that floated around after Tamir's shooting that he looked like a grown man, 20 years old to be exact, should have been shouted down as the complete bull that it was. Let's keep in mind that after shooting Tamir, not only did these officers not administer aid, they tackled and handcuffed his 14-year-old sister when she tried to run to her dying brother's side. Sit with that also.
So some background on these police officers. For one, they are still active officers on the Cleveland police force. Timothy Loehmann had been deemed “emotionally unstable” and unfit for service as a police officer by the Independence (Ohio) Police Department after only five months on the job back in 2012. During one handgun training session, he had what was described as an emotional breakdown. His handgun performance was described as “dismal” and that he was “distracted and weepy” during the training session. In March 2014, Loehmann got an offer from the Cleveland Police Department after a long string of rejections from others. Frank Garmback, on the other hand, had been involved in an excessive force lawsuit earlier in 2010 where he was accused of “plac[ing a civilian] in a chokehold, tackl[ing] her to the ground, twist[ing] her wrist and hitting her body”. The city of Cleveland settled for $100,000 in this case. Fast forward a few years and these two cops were riding together on November 21, 2014, answer a 9-1-1 call and Tamir is shot.
How does one measure a life lost? In this case, the city of Cleveland thinks $6 million makes themselves and the Rice family even. Though neither officers were indicted, the parties reached a settlement in civil court recently. And now both parties can go their separate ways and all will be well, right? Does $6 million make up for the pain that Tamir surely felt as those two bullets ripped through him? Does it make up for the fact that he didn't have someone by his side telling him he was going to be ok as his blood spilled onto the November snow? What about his family? Does $6 million make up for no one accepting responsibility for Tamir's death? I don't know about you but I don't think so.
Back to hope. Where do I find hope knowing that any children that I have will be subject to either explicit violence or the insidious, harmful microaggressions that make up the lives of people of color? Maybe I should be comforted by the knowledge that if someone that I loved were killed without cause, there might be a significant payout involved. I try to walk through the world with my eyes wide open but that means that sometimes it’s painfully hard to get up in the morning.