No sooner had the tragic news of Tyre King’s death hit the news than the apology brigade of both blacks and whites hit social media, ready to victim-blame a 13-year-old child for his own demise at the hands of Columbus, Ohio, police officers. It’s almost as if some folks within our community are eager to show white America how “reasonable” they are in light of other shootings by suggesting that the circumstances surrounding Tyre’s death made this different and the actions of the officers more justifiable.
And this is the problem.
With little more than a shadow of evidence, many of these same people have already committed themselves to the narrative that Tyre was guilty of having committed an armed robbery, that he ran from police and that he then attempted to brandish a BB gun against armed police officers.
No arrest. No due process. No trial—just guilty. (By the way, if he was found guilty of an armed robbery, he absolutely would never receive the death penalty. So, there’s that.)
No body-camera video of the event.
The purported 911 call has no mention of Tyre pulling out a gun on the officers.
So now we are left to accept the account of Tyre’s death directly from the killers themselves. Never mind that Tyre’s killer, Officer Bryan Mason, had already fatally shot another person while on duty in 2012. Despite no evidence to corroborate their version of events and a sordid history of race relations between police in Ohio and communities of color, we are expected to take the police at their word. Why? Because they are sworn officers of the law? I’m sorry, but the police have sorta lost the benefit of the doubt with me when it comes to the loss of life and black bodies.
Let’s back up for a moment and use just a modicum of common sense. What 13-year-old black boy do you know who would ever pull out on the cops? Let alone pull out a fake gun?! Even a child who might not be the brightest but had minimal street smarts would know better. Why would you accept this story without questioning it? It doesn’t make sense.
But wait. Would police really falsify the details of what happened? I don’t know. Maybe we should ask the estates of Walter Scott, Samuel Dubose (which also happened in Ohio) or Laquan McDonald for an answer.
With the dead body of a 13-year-old black boy, what else did we expect them to say? For now into the foreseeable future, the controlling narrative will be the one that they created, without any alternative version to counter it.
The sad thing is, many of us are still out here going for the same head fake, as if we somehow have a stronger point in protesting police violence when situations appear more respectable. We soft-shoe around this as if the only time we are entitled to be outraged by the use of lethal force against innocent citizens is when the victims are straight-A students headed to Howard on a full ride and completely unarmed. (Note: Even in those scenarios, we still aren’t safe.)
What we have to stop doing is trying to convince ourselves that somehow the circumstances actually make a difference in these situations. They do not. #PhilandoCastile had a license to carry. He told police as much, and the officer still killed him.
The list in Ohio alone is sickening. We must stop trying to mitigate the actions of police who have used fatal force at the expense of black lives and to the exclusion of other races. Just stop it.
The insidious trick that white supremacy has played on us has been to make too many of us skeptical about the innocence of our own. Too many of us are more comfortable accepting the narrative that Tyre was a thug who pulled a gun on cops than even beginning to ponder the idea that the account of events we’ve been given—sans any video or independent sources—might be suspect.
If there were as many folks—white and black—who were as deeply invested in justice for all as there are those affirming a white supremacist narrative under the guise of respectability, our community would likely be in a very different space.
Did Tyre rob a store? That's probably a great question. Sadly, we will never know. Because instead of a trial, his parents will now have to attend his funeral and bury their child. Instead of a defense attorney, they will need to call a mortician. Instead of treating him as a human being, police have now turned a 13-year-old innocent boy into a hashtag.
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a civil rights trial attorney, legal analyst and former Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor. He is also a professor of criminal justice at Berkeley College in New York. Follow him on Twitter.