Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy who was playing in a Cleveland, Ohio park with a toy gun. Someone called 911 and reported that a “juvenile” was pointing a gun at passersby and that the gun was probably a toy. Two city police officers named Loehmann and Garmback arrived on the scene in separate cars. Critical information had NOT been related to them: they were not told that Tamir was a child, nor that Tamir appeared to be playing with a toy gun. It appears, however, that within two minutes of arriving on the scene Officer Loehmann had taken out his real gun, aimed, opened fire, and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
It is unclear to me how anyone, including a trained police officer, can assess a scene in under two minutes. It is unclear how a grown man can not recognize the difference between a child with a toy gun and a threatening adult. It is equally unclear to me how anyone with a conscience can ever again sleep at night after shooting a child to death. Yet two “independent experts” in police shootings stated that this police shooting was justified and/or reasonable.
In South Carolina, a female high-school student refused to leave the classroom, and security was called. The so-called “school resource officer,” Ben Fields, confronted the girl, grabbed her, and then turned over her desk with her in it, throwing her on the floor in the process. He then dragged her out of the classroom while choking her. Of course, everything was caught on a cell-phone video. Another student, who complained about her classmate’s treatment by calling out “Stop! What are you doing to her?” (or something along those lines), was then arrested for interfering. The security guard has since been fired – but was this the best way to handle a teenager?
America is simply too violent. It seems the only way we try to resolve a dispute is with a gun. Shoot first and asked questions later. It’s as if we live in the Wild, Wild West with Wyatt Earp and John Wesley Hardin, who once shot a man for snoring. Where is Wild Bill Hickok? We have to have a better way of resolving our differences.
Sigh. The violence in Baltimore saddens me. It is all so damn sad. It doesn’t help Freddie Gray. It doesn’t help the protesters. It doesn’t help the City of Baltimore.
Martin Luther King, after studying Ghandi’s methods and teachings, decided that nonviolence was the way to make a statement and continue to keep the moral high ground. Today, the people of Baltimor; the poor people of Baltimore, the youth of Baltimore, have lost the moral high ground. They can talk about poverty. They can talk about police brutality. All America will see is pictures of burning cars and innocent store owners crying about their looted stores.
Baltimore could and should have been different. It is a city that has a black mayor. It is a city that has tons of black officers on its police force. It is a city that has a black police chief. Therefore, this wasn’t a black-white thing. This was an us-vs-them thing… or maybe it was a rich-vs-poor thing. I don’t know, but without the race thing in the way I thought that there was a chance for quick and thoughtful discussion leading to some real change. Fire, rocks and injured police officers have ended any thoughts of rapid anything. Progress is now going to be slow. Very slow.
We must remember the lessons from those who have come before us, like Dr. Martin Luther King. The problems in the inner city aren’t new. We have tackled them before. The violence in the inner city isn’t new. We have tackled it before. The problems in our police force are not NEW!! We can fix these problems if we have the will.
But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.
For the last two weeks, Ferguson, Missouri has been nightly entertainment. We have watched CNN, Fox News, MSNBC for the latest updates. Has the violence continued? Have peace and quiet been restored? What is wrong with those people in Ferguson? Could this happen here?
For two weeks, I have been avoiding the nightly news. I truly did not want to know what the latest update was. As a trauma surgeon, I hate loss of life. It is in my DNA. I hate it when someone needlessly gets gunned down in the streets. We saw that in Ferguson. We also saw it in the Trayvon Martin case.
In the United States there are several truisms. One of those truisms is that you simply don’t talk back to police. I was taught, growing up in the ’70s, that I needed to show police respect whether they deserved it or not. Why? Because that’s the way it is in the United States. My parents never explained it that way. But that’s the way it is. We can sit down and discuss the merits of the system and thoughtful ways of changing the system so the system works more for everybody, but the way the system is today… and the way it has been for more than 100 years, you must show police officers respect or there are dire consequences. Simply put, if you do not show police the respect that they, themselves want, you increase dramatically your chances of dying. Continue reading What Ferguson tells us about America→