Justice went unserved again yesterday, this time in Cleveland.
A grand jury declined to bring charges against the two officers who killed 12-year old Tamir Rice last year. Rice, an African-American, was playing with a toy gun in a public park near his home when the officers pulled up and opened fire on him less than 2 seconds after emerging from the squad car. No warning was given, and Rice was never instructed to lay down his gun or put up his hands. Officers simply saw a young black man and opened fire.
Just like so many other times.
And, like so many of those other cases, no one will be held responsible for the murder of a young black man. Tamir Rice’s death will be elicit the mouthing of sympathy from the city of Cleveland, from the police union, from politicians and officials across Ohio and America. But none of them will demand justice. None of them will defend Tamir Rice against those create excuses for why he had to die.
This is why we say Black Lives Matter. This is why we assert racism to be alive and well in the power structures of 21st century America. This is why we stand with those who have to fear for their lives everyday because our society has very little regard for them. As one person put it on Twitter today, “Racism doesn’t usually look like someone shouting slurs, it looks like people eagerly looking for reasons why a black kid had to die.”
Back in August, I wrote:
There is a legitimate problem centered around black men and women being gunned down by police officers prior to any opportunity for due process and the judicial system to do its work, and then those police officers walking away with no consequences. Read that last sentence again; it is the crux of what people are upset about. Far too many times have we seen stories about a black human being who may or may not have broken a law being killed by the officer they come in contact with, and then no consequences being handed down. Far too often, the death penalty has been meted out at the whim of a single, white police officer, for alleged “crimes” that in a court of law would merit a fine.
This is a real problem in a country that purports to believe in the principle of the presumption of innocence, and trial by jury. When we dispense with real justice, when we defend those who take it into their own hands to do the work of the courts and dispense “justice” without due process, we inevitably say that the victimized person was undeserving of the rights guaranteed to us in the America. That person just didn’t matter enough.
This is what is meant by the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Too often, black lives don’t seem to matter. Black lives seem expendable, like they are merely the normal leftovers of creating a society that is supposedly “just” and “free” and “safe.” Every time a black man or woman is gunned down by a state actor, and no one is held responsible, it sends the message that Black Lives Don’t Matter.
BLM works to make this simple idea a reality: the lives of black people do matter.
Those words are as true today as they were back then. But in this case, there was no grey area of motive. Tamir Rice broke no law, violated no norm, did nothing wrong. But because his life was valued less because of the color of his skin, because he was viewed through the prism of a society that has reduced all young black men to the simple caricature of a “thug”, his life was forfeit that day.
And yesterday, when the prosecutor walked out of the courthouse and announced to the world that Tamir Rice’s life didn’t matter enough to pursue justice in a court of law, he announced that, once again, in the eyes of the white power structure, black lives still really don’t matter.
There is still much work to be done. We’ve made much progress this year, but yet it is still much too little. God give us the strength and the resolve and the righteous anger to keep fighting for a better world.