Ken Berwitz

Why am I using the above blog title?

Here is your answer, via the first two paragraphs of yesterday\’s lead editorial in the New York Times, which was published after a Grand Jury declined to indict Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann for shooting and killing Tamir Rice:

Tamir Rice ofCleveland would be alive today had he been a white 12-year-old playing with atoy gun in just about any middle-class neighborhood in the country on theafternoon of Nov. 22, 2014.

But Tamir, who wasshot to death by a white police officer that day, had the misfortune of beingblack in a poor area of Cleveland, where the police have historically behavedas an occupying force that shoots first and asks questions later. To grow upblack and male in such a place is to live a highly circumscribed life, hemmedin by forces that deny your humanity and conspire to kill you.

There you have it.  In those two paragraphs, The Times tells us that:

-The shooting and killing of Tamir Rice was a race crime, plain and simple.

-All that happened was that they shot and killed “a 12 year old playing with a toy gun”.

-The police in his neighborhood are gun-happy lunatics – “an occupying force that shoots first and asks questions later”.

If those “facts” were the sum total of information about Tamir Rice and what happened to him, I probably would be commending The Times for its blunt appraisal of this horrible injustice.

But it isn\’t.  

Here is what The Times somehow left out;

-The fact that Tamir Rice was shot by a White officer, in and of itself, does not prove the shooting was racial in nature.  The neighborhood Rice lived is preponderantly Black, which means that regardless of the race of an individual officer, any action of any kind involving a resident is likely to be with a Black resident.  We can speculate about whether this particular incident was racially motivated from today to doomsday, but we\’ll never know for sure.  How can a Grand Jury indict based on a racial crime, if there is no way to prove it was a racial crime?

-Yes, it is true that Tamir Rice was “a 12 year old playing with a toy gun”.  But Officer Loehmann did not know he was 12 years old.  See, the Times – accidentally, I\’m sure – forgot to mention that Rice was 5\’ 7″ tall and weighed 195 pounds.  In other words, he was the size of an adult.  And the “toy gun” – which, legally, must have highly visible orange markings, so it would not be mistaken for a real gun – had the markings removed.  It, therefore, did not look like a toy at all, it looked like the real thing. 

-The police working this neighborhood may well be overly aggressive, even way over the line in that regard.  But what does that have to do with the facts of this one, specific incident?  Nothing.  To invoke previous police excesses where Tamir Rice lived – which, let\’s not forget, is an extremely high crime area – is not unlike telling a prostitute who was raped that it isn\’t a crime because she has had sex with a lot of men for money.  The specific incident is what it is, regardless of anything else.

-Later on in the editorial, it is pointed out that the incident began when a 911caller reported that a male who was \’probably a juvenile\’ was waving a \’probably fake\’ gun at people in a park….which, apparently, is supposed to communicate that the police should have known there was no real problem.  

This, however, ignores the facts that a) the caller thought there was enough of a threat to contact 911, b) the caller made it clear he/she did not know whether the male was a juvenile or the gun was fake (so how could the officer know – especially when, from a distance, Tamir Rice looked like an adult-sized person with a real gun) and c) even if it were clear that Rice was a juvenile, how does that negate the possibility of him having a real gun and being ready to use it?  Juveniles commit violent crimes every day.

The Times ends its editorial with this:

In addition to portraying the killing as a result of a tragic misunderstanding, prosecutors have also suggested the officer\’s decision to kill Tamir was shaped by the fact that the surrounding neighborhood had a history of violence and that the boy appeared to be older than 12 because he was big for his age.  

These arguments sidestep the history of violent, discriminatory police actions that led up to this boy\’s death.  They also have the reprehensible effect of shifting the responsibilty for this death onto the shoulders of this very young victim.

OF COURSE that might have shaped the officer\’s decision. Put yourself in his shoes:  it\’s a high crime neighborhood, a 911call has come in that someone is waving a gun around a playground, you drive upand see what apparently is an adult with a gun.  How could that NOT shapeyour decision?

And, regarding the shifting of responsibility for this death?  What does that even mean?  There is no “shifting”, there is just responsibility.  So who does it fall on?

Part of the responsibility must fall on Tamir Rice, because he was the one with the real-looking gun.  

But Tamir Rice was just a pre-teen child.  Who gave him the gun?  Who removed the gun\’s markings to make it look real?  Who, in other words, facilitated the set of circumstances which resulted in his being shot and killed?  Can the New York Times honestly say whomever did these things bears no responsibility?

From all appearances, Tamir Rice was an innocent 12 year old who was just messing around – something which just about every 12 year old is often “guilty” of, regardless of color, neighborhood or social status.  And the messing around that young Tamir did, led to tragedy.  But to call it a race crime and indict the entire police force over what happened is not only dishonest, it is an incitement for there to be a racial reaction – maybe even a race riot.

Is that what The Times wants? A race riot?   It certainly looks that way.  

Maybe it will succeed…and the members of its editorial board will be able to congratulate themselves on their great success.

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