Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holy Innocents and These Unholy Times

All day yesterday I was battling extreme exhaustion and a dull headache. I was fighting to keep my eyes open as the nightly news came on the television. And when I heard the lead story--that a jury failed to find police officer Timothy Loehmann guilty in the shooting death last year of 12-year-old Tamir Rice--I figured I might as well just close my eyes. I couldn't even cry. I couldn't do more than close my eyes and through the pain in my skull ask again, "Why? How?" 
There are, I am sure, lots of excuses for why a cop would pull up to a 12 year-old on a playground and within seconds open fire on the child. I am sure that all the miscommunication about "the suspect" could seem to serve as a reasonable cause for why this happened. But, for me, I was left with the continued doubt that there could be any really good reason things had to go down as they did there in Cleveland. And a mother is still left without the opportunity to see her son grow into a man. 
One of my friends posted a statement from an African-American woman who is an academic. In this woman's FB status she laid out the reason why she refused to write yet-another column about the racism of our country, the systems that constantly fail African-Americans, and explaining black outrage to a white audience. I totally understood where this woman was coming from in her anger and disgust with journalism on the topic du jour. It is one of the failings of our media that minorities are expected to talk about "minority stuff" and explain it to the majority in ways that will be palatable. This woman didn't need to write a column; she needed to express the rage she was feeling in her FB status posting. If we, the white public, need this explained again, then it means we really are a sad and sorry lot, and so simpleminded that we might want to enroll in a remedial empathy class.
We don't need this information broken down. We need to get real about breaking down the prejudice and the fear of people of color that leads to the needless and wanton killing of black male children.
Having this verdict come on the eve of the day when the church marks the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod was sadly too timely. The tale of Herod's wholesale killing of male children because he feared a challenge to his place by the newborn king of Bethlehem may not line up one-for- one with what happened to Tamir Rice. But it is still fear, I believe, that is at the root of why police officers shoot first, and ask questions later. There is the real issue for cops that with so many guns in the hands of so many citizens in this country, they can't always tell who has a toy and who has a weapon. Tamir's toy gun that he was playing with didn't have any features that would distinguish it from a regular gun. That said, police officers Loehmann and his partner Frank Garmback arrived on the scene and appeared to have exited their patrol car and immediately shot Tamir. 
Because the dispatch told them there was a "black male" waving a gun? Tamir didn't look like an adult. He wasn't given a chance to show he didn't have a real gun. Like King Herod's soldiers killing any boy three years or younger, these officers just knew that black+male+gun=shoot. Can we really blame black parents who express outrage and fear that their children can be killed so quickly? Would these officers shoot a white kid in the same situation? 
We know Tamir's name. We know Laquan McDonald's name. But there are hundreds more throughout the country, and especially in the city of Chicago, who are getting gunned down. They are our Holy Innocents of this day and age. I'm afraid it won't stop until mothers of white boys become as enraged and are asked to write the 1200-word columns for the newspaper about why this system is broken. And so, for Tamir and all others, I pray...
 We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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