Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tamir Rice and the American Police State

I don't watch videos of police shooting suspects anymore because I watched the Tamir Rice video when it was first released.  I have never, ever seen anything so absolutely horrifying in my entire life.  The image of a 12 year old boy being shot down by a police officer in about two seconds has been burned into my mind and I cannot get it out.  From time to time over the last year it has bubbled up to haunt me whenever I hear about new cases of police violence.  I think about my students, many of whom fit Tamir's profile, yet older apparently more "dangerous," and get sick to my stomach with fear and anxiety.

By all accounts the officer who shot him was an incompetent, trigger-happy shithead.  The fact that he was allowed by the city of Cleveland to have the power of life and death over a child is in itself a crime of epic proportions.

Yes, there were some odd circumstances, namely that the dispatcher had made the situation sound much more dangerous than it actually was.  But even if Tamir Rice was holding a real gun, there's nothing, absolutely nothing that can explain the fact that he was left laying there, bleeding out, without any medical help, other than the complete and utter disregard that the officers on the scene had for his life.  If do not think he race had anything to do with that lack of regard then I don't even want to bother talking to you.

Of course, he didn't have a real gun.  He didn't point it at anyone.  Tamir lived in an open-carry state, where it is not a crime to carry a gun openly.  Watching the video, it is completely obvious that there is no way that Timothy Loehmann was able to properly assess the situation.  He was intending, perhaps from (or before) the moment he arrived, to shoot and kill Tamir.

And yet, there is no indictment.  Indictments are so easy to procure that lawyers like to joke that "you can indict a ham sandwich."  Yet in Ferguson, New York, and now Cleveland, it seems impossible to indict a white police officer who kills an unarmed black person.  It's almost too obvious to state this, but so many people in America don't want to believe it, so here it goes: when it comes to African Americans, the United States is a police state.  Any police officer who kills an African American will not be punished, because white society is so deeply invested in its fear of black people and its desire to enforce white supremacy.  Few white people will say that openly, of course.  But their lizard brains react in terror when they see black people taking to the streets to protest brutality, and those same lizard brains automatically search for ways to exonerate white police officers who kill black people.  Anything that challenges the status quo of radical residential segregation with black ghettoes patrolled by police officers who are above the law in their ability to use violence makes their fear reflexes go off the charts.

And yet white people are vastly overrepresented in the militia, open carry, and anti-gun control movements.  Many of them are constantly fearful of a "big government" that they think is trying to control their lives, all while endorsing that government's surveillance of Muslims and mass incarceration of people of color.  The crime rate goes down, but they freak out nonetheless about a perception of rising crime.  That perception is merely a barometer of their own fear that white supremacy is being undermined.  Again, they are not fully conscious of this fear, because in "post-racial" America the only racists are the ones wearing white sheets, and they think that to notice and talk about race makes someone the "real racist."

The anxieties around white supremacy are so deeply ingrained in the backs of the minds of white people that even I have to tell my own lizard brain to shut the fuck up from time to time.  (The implicit bias tests get at this issue.)  That's just how powerful this mental disease is.  Until it is eradicated, and more white people can choose humanity over fear, I worry that the American police state will be able to maintain itself, killing more innocents as it goes along.

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