Apparently, the little middle market town of Cleveland, Ohio is in the news today. Last year, the Cleveland Police responded to a call about a black male waving a gun in a City Park. My news channels local and national seem to have a problem with details. But the incident caused a great deal of frayed nerves and exposed the divisions of race we foster within the Unites States. Simple solutions are pushed aside often here. Both sides are careful to spill as much gasoline over the issue as possible then when the cameras are on dropping the match. At this point, both sides point at the other and claim it wasn’t them that started the fire.
I’m a white middle aged male raised in a middle class neighborhood by married parents. I’m also a gun owner. My point of view may be influenced by attending an inner city college, being a teaching assistant for Physics and Chemistry for inner city middle school and high school kids, working with Santa programs for inner city kids, and working with Senior citizen programs preventing fraud through education. My view point is my own. It is meant for dialogue not to be inflammatory.
The idea of brandishing a gun is not socially acceptable. Be it real, or in this case a pellet gun altered to appear like a real gun. At some point, this 12 year old who looked older than his age decided to play with a pellet gun in a park where others were present. Some of these people called the police over a period exceeding 30 minutes about said boy with a gun. The racial component of the people making the phone call was left to voice determination. Originally, it was used to say black citizens made the phone calls. Which brings up the question of why that matters. White officers showed up and shot said boy with a pellet gun that is identical to many models of real weapons.
There have been many reasons given for the shooting by both sides. The white police officer shot him in less than two seconds after his partner stopped the cruiser less than twenty feet away from the boy. The boy is seen on video reaching toward his waist band where the gun was.
The police explanation is pretty simple. You reach for a gun. They tell you to put your hands up and you don’t, well you get shot. Unfortunately, their training is defend yourself and the other people that could be threatened by a person waving a gun within a City Park. Two seconds is not long to assess a situation. It’s impossible to determine if the gun is real before they get shot at. It’s hard to find out the boy is an honor student with a great future where he will make his family proud. It’s a little more than a rest pulse rate. But in the two seconds a bunch of lives changed. In fairness, the officer was clear of the car for less than a second before the shooting occurs.
The family has gone to great lengths to peruse criminal charges against these officers. The officer shooting the boy was kicked out of another police training program over anger issues. Therefore, should have never been on the police force. This is a valid concern. While people can change, under duress that could affect his decision making. The idea of their son being seen as a thug, common criminal. His presence alone being a threat, because after all it’s a toy in his possession. There can be no explanation other than murder. The family received a settlement from the city, and furthered an effort to bring charges against the officers involved. In an unique sign of the times, professional protestors (yes, a community group based in New York City paid travel, salary, and legal fees for them) come to our city to stage informational protests. Their activities designed to be most evident during rush hour while suburbanites left the city after work.
The result was a city with a Federal investigation about use of force became front page news. Why would white policeman shoot a boy with a toy in under a second?! A Black Mayor, a Black Police Chief, and a White Prosecutor were all taken to task over why this could happen. No one openly questioned the wisdom of letting your child play with a pellet gun in a City Park! No one asked wouldn’t a child understand the put your hands up, or let me see your hands! The officer would be trained to announce prior to shooting. The training is designed to meet the threat with comparable force to reduce or eliminate the threat.
The threat of a 5 foot 6 inch 12 year old boy with a gun. The officer trying to react to someone reaching for a gun rather than lift their arms up. The same person waving the gun openly for the world to see, was left with an adult decision. If he was unable to follow the command of an officer pulling out a gun, is society to blame? Can we accept the officer felt the gun was real? Can we think if we had a second to save ourselves against a weapon pulled on us, how would you react? It’s a tragedy. But most unfortunately it’s a human made tragedy.
Black life matters. But only because all life matters. Black life matter signs never appears when a young black child is killed in a drug shot out between gangs. The tragedy here was this was painted in a “color by number” way of racism. The white police officer was told by dispatcher that a black man with a gun was threatening people in the park. Although, at least one call correctly identified the gun as a pellet gun. Several reported it as a real gun. The dispatcher never mentioned the possibility of a pellet gun.
We can either live in a world where no tragedy is free of racism, or other discrimination. Or we can try to understand the world around us. You wouldn’t have your child play on a freeway. But playing with a pellet or toy gun unsupervised in a park is pretty close to playing on a freeway. Something bad is bound to happen. Most of us don’t see guns played with. We expect a gun to be real. We expect a policeman to disarm a person with a gun that may threaten us. When the boy reaches for the gun, I feel for both of them. Mostly the boy because the family never gave him a chance to fulfill those dreams. Teach your children guns are not toys! We can end this if we respect the society in which we live.