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Tamir Rice, and why the wrong decision is tragically right - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Tamir Rice, and why the wrong decision is tragically right [Dec. 28th, 2015|11:31 pm]
No one will face charges in the death of Tamir Rice. And as frustrating as that is, I understand why it happened.

We are wrong to look at the actions of individual officers. What needs indicting is the system of police training itself.

Within the parameters outlined by the grand jury (the exact details to which I am not privy), I can only surmise that the details were quite straightforward: officers were informed by a 911 operator that a black youth was pointing a gun at people in a park. Officers responding placed themselves between the youth and other potential targets. Officers saw black youth reach for a weapon. Officers responded with protective--and, alas, deadly--force.

Facts presented in that way make it clear that the officers, though they may be regretful at the death of a 12-year-old, reacted in a manner that followed police procedure. And, in that light, the grand jury could not return with a warrant for prosecution.

They made the proper decision, based on what was presented. But what was presented is a long way from the universal truths.

Truth one: Tamir Rice was a dopey kid playing with a pretend gun. The way he played would be written off if he were white. But because he wasn't, someone called him into the cops.

Truth two: Cops are trained to a kind of risk avoidance that perceives persons of color as a far bigger risk than they really are. The stats show that cops are at less risk now than they have been in the last century, but they are trained to regard every difficulty involving a minority as possibly fatal. No one wants to end up dead on the streets, so this training makes cops much edgier than reality warrants.

Truth three: An African American male cannot overcome being viewed as a deadly enemy. Tamir was playing. His play can be regarded as thoughtless and stupid, but considering that white mass murderers have been brought in without injury, an honest assessment of the situation has to consider that unsubstantiated fear triggers tragic reactions.

The cop who shot Tamir testifies that the kid was admonished at least twice to drop his weapon. Yet the act of reaching for the weapon--possibly to drop it--was the inciting act that led to the firing of shots that killed a 12-year-old boy. How could Tamir have survived a situation where trying to drop his toy gun resulted in getting shot, but not trying to drop it would have led to getting shot? The kid was literally in a no-win situation. Perhaps if he had had the wits to drop to his stomach with his hands behind his head he might have survived.

Is that really the standard we want to accept? Perfect understanding of a situation and the ability to make a decision that only cool hindsight would make obvious? Dear heavens, that's not the standard I want to abide.

And yet that is the standard to which we appear to be holding black youths. Don't you know that you should always be perfect? Don't you know that anything less that complete compliance is a death sentence?

Why can't you just be the good nigger?

It's painful to write that sentence. But I can't avoid it. It's what so many people expect. A white kid murders people in a church, and the cops find the time and energy to talk him out of his stronghold. They take him to freakin' Burger King.

A black child plays unwisely with a toy gun. And people defend his murder as his own fault.

Tamir Rice didn't bow and scrape. He wasn't white, so he didn't get the benefit of the doubt. He hadn't killed anybody, but because he wasn't white that didn't matter. Any minute now, a black man could just freaking kill anyone. Everyone.

Being black and all.

And yet, I will sadly and regretfully nod in agreement of the decision made, regarding these cops, in these circumstances. Because this nonsensical behavior is what they were trained to do.

The problem is not with Officer Friday, on patrol. The problem is systemic, endemic. It stems from the belief that The Other is inferior, that there is only one way to live, to be.

Until we deal with that. Tamir Rice is just one more statistic.

[User Picture]From: andrewducker
2015-12-29 12:08 pm (UTC)
I don't know enough about the situation, and I can envision a situation where the system is awful _and_ an individual is also more awful than the system necessitates. But your reading sounds scarily reasonable.

And the system clearly needs to be fixed. If nothing else, when the system is better it will mean that bad cops will stand out more and be spotted before they do as much harm.
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[User Picture]From: greybeta
2015-12-29 01:20 pm (UTC)
Coming from a conservative state, I saw quite a few Facebook posts support the decision. Blah blah blah, blame bad parenting, blah blah blah. It's odd, to say the least.

Fixing the system requires empathy, which seems like a characteristic we've lost as a nation. We need to fix what's broken, but I'm not sure of a solution that won't be botched/co-opted/ignored by our lawmakers.

Unfortunately, all we can do is wait for the next incident to come to light.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-12-29 05:37 pm (UTC)
I saw something on Facebook a couple weeks back, contrasting articles about two mothers: the white mother of someone who shot people, and a black mother whose son was shot by police. The comments on the article about the white mother expressed sympathy for what she was going through. The comments on the article about the black mother were filled with snide remarks about her parenting. Even though the white man was a perpetrator and the black one a victim, the white man got sympathy. It was boggling.

I wish I had been able to bookmark the piece, but Facebook did one of its page refreshes that made it disappear and I couldn't find it again.
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[User Picture]From: gythiawulfie
2015-12-29 02:01 pm (UTC)

According to one report

Apparently, the issue started with the 911 operator who failed to tell the officers that the person(s) who called in the report suspected that the gun was probably fake

That one piece of information never reached the officers ears and since 911 communications are recorded, it was proven that was the case, and added to the series of events that lead to the tragedy. You are correct however. Training has to be altered. The whole idea of how we react has to be altered, and I say this living not far from an area where it's kids killing kids on a regular basis. (Yeah, don't hear much about that, would be bad publicity for the 25th most expensive place to live in the USA. Also why the gentrification of this entire county is being pushed... sooooo freakin' hard.)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-12-29 05:43 pm (UTC)

Re: According to one report

The caller's qualifying remarks were not conveyed to the officers. Still, they made the decision to approach within mere feet of the boy, putting themselves into the imminent danger they felt. That's just bad police work.
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From: anonymousalex
2015-12-29 05:11 pm (UTC)
At the risk of sounding like a plaintiff's attorney, wouldn't holding the individual officers personally responsible for this sort of tragedy be a pretty effective way of putting pressure on the system to change?

I mean, you're right that this is a systemic problem and all, but without consequences, what's the motivation to change? (Cf. the financial system after the stunning lack of prosecutions for theft through obfuscation.)

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-12-29 05:32 pm (UTC)
I would have preferred that. A full trial would have been a better platform to discuss the issues. I'm just saying that I understand why it didn't happen.
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From: anonymousalex
2015-12-29 07:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, I didn't mean to imply you were wrong about that. Again, not to sound all lawyery, but holding an individual criminally responsible for following the rules as laid out might actually break the due process clause, the ex post facto clause, and probably half a dozen others.

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[User Picture]From: callie_chan
2016-01-01 12:37 am (UTC)
I was thinking this, too. Until/unless systemic change occurs, putting pressure on officers to really think about the consequences of what they're doing - and the potential racial biases of their training and their perception of situations - might be the only thing that can be done to effect positive change. But yes, the problem goes a lot deeper than any one officer, or even a handful of officers.

My other concern is that, by going 'there was nothing wrong with how these officers behaved', the message is being sent that their shooting a twelve-year-old boy dead for playing with a toy gun was right. The nuance of the message - namely, 'these officers correctly followed training, procedure and their understanding of the situation, but their training, the procedure, and their understanding were all completely wrong' - will not reach the ears of a lot of people. They'll just hear 'the officers were right' and continue blaming a child for his own tragic, avoidable death that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the racial climate of this country and its law enforcement in particular.

I can't blame the jury; having sat on one myself, I know that the emphasis is on deciding rulings based on the letter of the law as it's currently written, and I doubt the officer(s) were in violation as a jury would see it. They, like the officers responding to the call about Tamir, followed procedure. But, much like the officers, I don't feel that the result of their following procedures - however correctly - was anything resembling justice.
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From: anonymousalex
2016-01-01 04:31 pm (UTC)
Although the judge probably instructed you otherwise, jury nullification is still a thing. However, it works a lot better when acquitting than when convicting, since a conviction can be appealed (or even get an immediate judgment NOV), whereas an acquittal is locked in due to double jeopardy.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2016-01-01 04:43 pm (UTC)
Another factor in this is the severe risk aversion that we as a country now suffer. Police deaths are at an all time low, and yet there is the ongoing perception that any encounter with a POC is likely to end in violence against the officer. Just like any child playing without adult supervision is only moments away from being kidnapped, so a parent allowing a child to go to the park just down the street is subject to arrest for neglect. Both these viewpoints are erroneous, but our inability to evaluate actual risk is so damaged now that absurd decisions are made almost daily.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-12-29 06:12 pm (UTC)

Re: You've nailed it

Please link it from my Living Graciously Wordpress, which is linked on my Facebook page.
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[User Picture]From: mplsindygirl
2015-12-29 10:52 pm (UTC)
The one small thing that I can do is talk to the cousins in my family who are or are training to be in law enforcement. And challenge them to be mindful of how broken the system is, to challenge their own prejudice. When I got my uncle's Christmas letter saying that his grandson is starting training, I made up my mind that I have to do at least that much.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2015-12-30 11:14 pm (UTC)
reading that *one* sentence made me sick.

it makes it no less RIGHT. and that's the huge elephant in the living room, that people keep ignoring as the room fills with elephant shit. and in the case of the US, dead black young men.

usually. sometimes it's black people of any age and gender.
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[User Picture]From: cinema_babe
2015-12-30 11:23 pm (UTC)
I'm curious to get your opinion from a legal POV.

I often think that one of the issues is that (on purpose or not) these crimes are either charged incorrectly and/or the wrong people are charged with the crime. I think the main reason for the exoneration was that they showed the gun Rice had and a real gun side by side and I can see where it would legitimately be tough to tell them apart*.

It's not clear to me why the dispatcher wasn't charged. S/He left out a crucial piece of information that, was it not omitted, might have resulted in a very different outcome.

Do you think the dispatcher should have been held culpable?


* I *not* saying that there isn't a systematic issue. I have a teen age nephew and it's scary to me that if here's in the wrong place, facing the wrong person he could be injured or killed because ssomeone felt "their lives were in danger". I'm talking specifcally bout the Tamir Rice
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-12-31 01:32 am (UTC)
The biggest problem is that the prosecutor went into the grand jury determined NOT to get an indictment. His presentation was sloppy and omitted a number of issues.

The officers put themselves into perceived imminent danger. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. The dispatcher's omission made things worse, but I don't think it's an error that is prosecutable.
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From: anonymousalex
2015-12-31 02:05 am (UTC)
Ah, but, as you know, the Grand Jury system is not designed to get to the truth, but merely to confirm that the prosecutor has adequate evidence to hold someone over for trial. Which presupposes that the prosecutor is trying to get that confirmation.

The system should have an independent prosecutor for police defendants, given the regular interaction between the ordinary prosecutor and the police.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-12-31 08:07 pm (UTC)
Absolutely agree
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