Jeremy Mardis
CBS News Screenshot

Jeremy Mardis did not deserve to die.

I hesitated to write this piece because I did not want to politicize the 6-year-old’s death. I did not want to think about the five bullets that pierced his head and chest as he sat next to his father, Christopher Few, as Marksville, La., Marshals Norris Greenhouse Jr. and Derrick Stafford pursued Few.

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Little Jeremy was buckled in his seat belt, believing he was safe.

Safe.

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Yet he would become the youngest victim and latest example of police brutality in this country.

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I am a mother of three sons, and the unfathomable anguish that Jeremy’s loved ones must be feeling rips at my heart, a heart already heavy with grief for the countless black and brown people—someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s father, someone’s mother—who have been neglected casualties of the Police States of America.

That relentless cycle of black death has been politicized for over a year. And if we are going to have honest, nuanced conversations about police brutality and race in this country, the tragedy of Jeremy Mardis becomes a part of the discussion. It must.

It took the Louisiana State Police less than one week to charge Greenhouse and Stafford with second-degree murder in Jeremy’s death. Their bond has been set at $1 million. They have been excoriated publicly as criminals and murderers. Their badges have protected them from neither the court of law nor that of public opinion.

The wheels of justice, wheels that have lacked the air necessary for them to gain traction when black people are killed by police, are turning swiftly, racing toward closure for Jeremy’s family.

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It won’t be enough. Jeremy’s family will still wonder about his hopes and dreams, what could have been, just as Martinez Sutton has wondered about his sister Rekia Boyd.

Their grief and shock will linger and come in crushing waves, as they have for Ron Davis and Lucia McBath when they think of their son Jordan Davis.

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They will fight for their son, just as Jonathan Crawford Jr. has done for his son Jonathan Crawford III.

Jeremy’s family will miss him, every second of every minute of every day, just as much as Samaria Rice misses her baby boy, Tamir Rice.

Nothing is more important than this badge that we wear on our uniform, the integrity of why we wear it,” said Louisiana State Police Col. Michael Edmonson in the wake of Jeremy’s death. “Because the public allows us to wear that. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege.”

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Yes, it is.

“Justice has been done tonight,” Edmonson said after Greenhouse and Stafford were arrested and charged.

Yes, it has.

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What Edmonson expressed is compassion for the victim of a horrific, violent crime. What we have become accustomed to is not empathy, or even sympathy, but a call for patience while officers conduct a thorough investigation.

And that is when the pain of black people is compounded. That is when our wounds are ripped open. We rarely hear police officers talking about justice for black victims. Instead we hear the terms “full investigation,” “state’s attorney,” “grand jury.”

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We hear the phrase “no charges.”

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When Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann gunned down 12-year-old Tamir (in less than two seconds) for playing with a toy gun on a playground, we were told to wait. It has been a year, and a grand jury still can’t decide whether to even indict Loehmann.

What about when Police Officer Joseph Weekly burst into the Detroit home of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ grandmother and shot the girl to death as she slept on the couch? Weekly and other officers entered the home without a warrant, with a camera crew from the reality-TV crime drama First 48 right on their heels. Police were allegedly in pursuit of a murder suspect when they burst through the door, throwing a flash grenade that landed so close to Aiyana, it burned her blanket. There was no talk of justice then.

Oh, wait; yes there was.

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There were two hung juries in 2013 and 2014 before charges were dropped against Weekly in 2015 in the “interest of justice,” according to Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Rob Moran. Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway agreed.

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“It isn’t the judge’s decisions that caused these juries to not reach a decision,” she said. “But I can tell you this: If anyone is looking for a scapegoat for justice, then you’ve got one here as owner, coach and quarterback. … If someone needs a scapegoat for what’s happening here—and what’s happening here is justice—then put it on me.”

Justice in this country should not look like dead black children and the free white cops who killed them.

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Justice should be swift and sure.

Justice should be difficult and precise, no matter who it is for or against.

But most importantly, justice should look like justice—not a crude caricature carved with the rusted blade of racism that criminalizes and disposes of its victims to explain its very existence.

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And in the case of Jeremy Mardis, justice looks like what it has always claimed to be.

There has been no chatter about the dangers officers face that give them the right to shoot first and ask questions later.

Stafford and Greenhouse were swiftly labeled “maniacs” and “murderers,” while their violent, white counterparts hide behind their shields as “public servants” and “heroes.” There has been no room left for ambiguous language like “alleged.”

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There has been no pathological generalization about white criminality, specifically that of white men, even though Christopher Few endangered his son’s life when he made the decision to flee police. There has been no discussion of “hands up” is a lie, as there was in the case of Michael Brown.

When Tamir was killed, Cleveland police attempted to blame him for his own death.

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Because how dare a black male child play with a toy that can be purchased at most major retailers in this country? How dare he be outside and free?

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Do you see the difference?

When activists talk about alliances and accomplices in seeking justice, we are saying: See our children as children. Understand that their lives matter, too. They matter just as much as Jeremy Mardis’.

No child deserves to die in as horrific and violent a way as Jeremy did. It does not matter whether police officers knew that Jeremy was in the car; they should not have recklessly endangered the lives of innocent people. We don’t need to know his father’s or his mother’s police record. We don’t need to know what his grades were in school or if he had any behavioral issues.

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All we need to know is that this is what happens when an unrestrained police force becomes the standard. This is what happens when law-enforcement officers play God with their guns.

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We who believe in justice often quote Audre Lorde, who stated, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

No, these tools will continue to strengthen it, repair it when it seems on the verge of collapse and protect it from intruders, but they will never destroy it.

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What the tragedy of Jeremy Mardis makes clear is that all of our children—every, single, precious one of them—are trapped within its sturdy walls as it burns from the inside out.