This week in Baltimore, a black 14-year-old named Dedric Colvin was shot by the police for carrying a BB gun that apparently looked like a real semiautomatic according to the Baltimore Police Department. It is a sad state of affairs that I must rejoice that young Colvin will live to tell the tale, but I truly am happy his parents will not have to bury their son like Tamir Rice’s mother did.
Five hundred twenty-one days ago, 12-year-old Tamir was shot dead by police officer Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland. It was either that day, Nov. 23, 2014, or a couple of days afterward that I learned of this occurrence. It didn’t take too long for me to begin seeing proclamations that this child caused his own death. And it was then that I saw just how devalued the lives of my students, my friends’ kids and other children I know (or don’t know) really and truly are. Well, at least the black ones.
When will we allow black children the freedom to explore the world the way their white counterparts do?
Some excuses for Tamir’s execution were that he “looked like an adult” and “should not have been playing with a [toy] gun [that looked that real]” — horribly crafted and uninformed excuses, given that even if Rice were an adult with a real gun, Ohio is an open-carry state, and he’d have been well within his rights. These terrible excuses were mostly put to rest by the surveillance video of the incident, which shows little more than a second elapse between the officers arriving on the scene and shooting the child.
The video then shows the officers body slamming and handcuffing Tamir Rice’s 14-year-old sister after she tried to run to him, having just witnessed his murder, and it shows the officers waiting four minutes before providing any medical aid to Tamir.
Society is apparently scared enough of black children with fake guns to wound and even kill them, but white children can carry absolutely real guns around, and no one thinks of them as suspicious — as did the 911 caller who reported Tamir. No one thinks to call the police because the vast majority of Americans don’t consciously think of white people, let alone white children, as dangerous, even though white male adolescents with guns are quite often the perpetrators of mass shootings.
I am incensed that I must worry about every black child — be they my future children, my friends’ children, my students or strangers — because they can be murdered and then blamed for their murder and not offered the sympathy or humanization that even white criminals are given.
I am even more incensed that people of all colors — the white ones because they will never experience racism, and the black and brown ones because of internalized racism — devalue our lives by blaming us for our deaths, when the fault is clearly that of racism and unconscious, negative, implicit associations about blackness. Some of y’all don’t get it and won’t try to understand. Meanwhile, black children cannot even play with toys and will continue to be harmed for doing so, in part by your unwillingness or inability to grasp how abhorred blackness is in the United States.
Let me be very clear: When unarmed people are shot (especially when they are killed), I am uninterested in any excuses. Tamir Rice was a child and probably completely terrified when the officers pulled up on him, and probably unsure of how to react (though they did not give him a lot of time for that, anyway). I recognize that Dedric Colvin, like the now-deceased Walter Scott, ran from the officer(s), who identified themselves to him. Running away from someone is not a capital offense, i.e., it is not punishable by death in a court of law, and it should not be so on the street, either. And with the over-policing of black and minority neighborhoods, the war on drugs, and America’s past and present police brutality, who could blame them for running?
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I can honestly say seeing police in an area does not make me feel safe; indeed, as someone with zero criminal record and only one speeding ticket, it makes me hyperaware of how I move, what I’m wearing, what I’m doing and how I come across to others. What many folks simply do not understand is that some people’s life experiences make us consider police differently. I’m certain this experience will forever change the way Dedric Colvin feels about police.
How many more black children need to die before society changes the way they feel about black people?