Today a grand jury in Cleveland did what this system does. They put an exclamation point on the statement that black lives don’t matter. That black children do not matter. That being young, black and free is a crime punishable immediately by death.
For over a year, there has been a chorus of people demanding some semblance of justice for 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s family, without daring to acknowledge that impossible hope that flickers each time another black person falls victim to state-sanctioned terror.
Don’t we know better by now?
Don’t we know after George Stinney and Emmett Till, Trayvon, Aiyana, Kimani and too many others, that our children are at worst viewed as targets, and at best as collateral damage in the hunt for other black bodies to destroy? Don’t we know that, unlike 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis, for whom justice was swift and sure, this country does not weep for them?
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy,” said prosecutor Timothy McGinty. “But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime.”
McGinty said this after stating that Tamir was executed by Police Officer Timothy Loehmann on Dec. 22. Like the grand jury’s decision, that is incorrect. Tamir was gunned down on Nov. 22, 2014—almost two years to the day that 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot down by white supremacist Michael Dunn for listening to loud music.
But when it comes to a dead black boy, who in the halls of (in)justice actually gives a damn about facts?
McGinty used interesting words in his victim-blaming statement: “the law that binds us.” Us. As if we are really a collective of citizens with the same rights and privileges. It was both warning and reminder that black people are still tethered to a country that views our children as disposable.
Back in March, the city of Cleveland blamed Tamir for his own death, saying that it was “directly and proximately caused by the failure of [Tamir] to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
How dare he, in an open-carry state, play with a toy gun that can be found on the shelves of most major retailers in this country? How dare he go to a playground with a toy? How dare Tamir—in a country that clings to its weapons, in a country where white women can point BB guns at police and live, where white extremists can openly menace black neighborhoods with assault rifles—walk around in his black skin and be a child?
I’ve written previously that our children are positioned on a seesaw of white hypocrisy and black respectability on the derelict playground of American racism. That is the playground that Tamir Rice stepped foot on that day.
“Shots fired, male down, um, black male, maybe 20,” either Loehmann or his partner, Frank Garmback, radioed in. “Black handgun.”
In a country that overwhelmingly distorts black childhood to fit its vile and violent racial prejudice, Tamir never stood a chance.