By Eoin Molloy
Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black child, was shot by Cleveland police officers in a park for brandishing a toy BB gun at passers-by.
Cleveland police had received a phone call from a concerned elderly man. He said that Tamir was ‘around 20’ and that the gun was ‘probably a fake’.
Crucially, the information about the gun being a fake was not relayed to the police officers who arrived at the scene and ordered Tamir to put his hands in the air.
Obviously not understanding the gravity of the situation, the 12 year old boy did not put his hands in the air. The police shot him square in the chest, and he died.
How on earth did police officers mistake a 12 year old boy for 20 at such close quarters?
This follows on from the shooting of another unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. Michael Brown was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Michael Brown had just robbed some cigars from a store in the area, and Wilson arrived at the scene. Brown allegedly punched Wilson in the face, and the police officer responded by opening fire.
Shooting once would be almost forgivable, if Brown did indeed reach for Wilson’s gun as he claims in his testimony.
However, how do you explain the six other shots? Also, as Shaun King on The Daily Kos has discovered, Brown’s body was found 154 feet away from Wilson’s police car, implying some kind of chase. This evidence contradicts Wilson’s claim that Brown ran at him twice.
This is a major hole in the case, but we really cannot be surprised by lying police officers any more. Wilson was not indicted, and was suspended with full pay. Seemingly unabashed by the killing, he got married a mere month after it. He has since retired from the police force.
Wilson’s testimony is extremely interesting, because it betrays some of his prejudices. He said that the look of Brown’s face was ‘like a devil’. When describing Brown’s strength, he said he ‘felt like a five year old holding on to Hulk Hogan’.
Aside from presenting his victim as a snarling, ape-like villain, Wilson’s testimony somewhat super-humanises Brown, a boy of just 18 years of age. Wilson presents Brown as a Godzilla-like creature, an animal so big and powerful that he was within his rights to put him down.
The association of super-human strength with Michael Brown is the racist part of this case. It seeks to justify Wilson’s actions. Much like the shooting of Tamir Rice, Brown was not seen as a child by the police officers. He was seen as a threat. This echoes the Trayvon Martin case, where a 17 year old murder victim was presented as a manly thug.
These facts were reflected in a study by the American Psychological Association showed that police officers were more likely to use force against black children than against whites.
According to the study, black male children aged 10 and up were seen as significantly less innocent than their peers. They were viewed as being responsible for their actions much before their white counterparts.
This unconscious racism was shown to be distinctly linked with violence used against black children in custody.
Ferguson has since become a focal point for racial tension in America, and rightly so. It seems as though the black population of the Deep South has had enough. The mainstream white media attempt to discredit the peaceful protestors by labelling them as opportunistic looters, as if looting is a phenomenon that is unique to blacks.
However, whites and blacks have shown an equal propensity to loot when the opportunity arises. The only difference is that, according to the media, whites do not loot, they ‘find’.
Take this picture (taken in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina) for example:
Not all American citizens are racist, but you cannot deny that America’s institutions (in the South in particular) are deeply racist. As police forces become more and more militarised, it is inevitable that unconsciously racist officers will continue to harm black children. American police officers are acting like an occupying army, not like protectors of the peace.
It is unclear at the moment what can be done to alleviate the racial tension in Ferguson, and in America as a whole. More black police officers are needed. Studies show that community police forces are 55% more ‘white’ than the communities they serve. This would be the first step in negating America’s fast-growing racial divide.