Soul sick

Here on the blog I generally stick to talking about books and writing. If I mention real life crime, it’s almost always a weird or goofy incident where nobody dies.

I hate writing about children being killed.

So I thought hard about posting anything about the horrifying death of Tamir Rice. But the shooting of the Cleveland twelve-year-old makes me soul sick every time it crosses my mind.

I’m a mom, and I ache for that child, and his family.

I’m an American mom, and I know how American kids love to play with toy guns. I played cowboys and Indians as a kid, and cops and robbers.

American kids are encouraged to play with toy guns.

I’ve spent the last decade watching the gun lobby, and pundits, and firearms manufacturers, and Open Carry activists tell us — over and over and over — that we should stay calm about, or even celebrate, the sight of guns in public. That guns are part of American culture. That preventing boys from playing shoot ’em up emasculates them. That there’s nothing more wholesome than teaching young kids to shoot — not with toys, but with real rifles. There’s even a pink .22 rifle marketed to first grade girls.

Then, last month, a Cleveland kid engaged in what so many influential American voices proclaim to be the ultimate All-American activity, and was gunned down for it. It was a hideous mistake, but a host of commenters started muttering that Tamir brought it on himself.

Policing is a tough and sometimes dangerous job. Police officers can face life-or-death decisions. But when they take that decision, and make an irreparable error, it’s necessary to examine why.

I want to know what has brought us to the point where a sixth grader with a toy is shot, and left to bleed without being offered first aid by the cops standing over him, and then police officials say those cops “just had to, you know, do something that nobody wants to do.”

Had to?

I want to know why so many of the comments on this shooting insist that the police fired on Tamir because “he drew his weapon on them.” He did not have a weapon.

I’m a crime writer. For God’s sake, in mysteries and thrillers, the cop who mistakenly shoots a kid holding a toy gun is a commonplace. That’s Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard. It’s such a conventional storytelling device, there’s an entire, long, entry on it on TV Tropes. (Shoot him, he has a wallet!)

In the movies, the cop spends years tormented by his mistake. But, following Tamir’s death, I’ve been hearing, and reading, “Guns are dangerous.” “He should have known better.” “The cops can’t be too careful anymore.” What, now it should be standard procedure to shoot children just in case? Then, when it turns out the dead kid presented no threat at all, just shrug, wash our hands and walk away? I don’t want to ever hear that again. A twelve-year-old with a toy was targeted and deliberately shot dead by an adult police officer. If your impulse is to argue that the child bears the blame here, and that he therefore somehow deserved it, something has gone deeply awry.

I want to know why so many people have no compassion for a boy lying shot in the street.

I want to know how the hell we have arrived at a place where supposedly respectable people refuse to acknowledge that when an unarmed child is shot to death, something has gone wrong — horribly, horribly wrong. Instead, they blame him for bringing down gunfire on himself. They seek to justify his death.

I want to know why, but I fear that there are only bad answers.

9 responses to “Soul sick

  1. My dear, you are an awe-inspiring wordsmith. The post above proves that undeniably. I have been struggling with many of the same emotions since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where I personally witnessed the crumbling of civilization as I knew it. I can’t change anything, but what I can do is change me. And I started with the first person I saw in need. It’s small, and probably nothing, but in that one moment, I felt lifted. I have continued in my own small way to contribute to the civilization that was non-existent. If for no other reason, for the one who was helped to know even strangers care.

  2. As I walked today, I chewed over what you have written here. It strikes me that you, and I, and many others throughout the world are numbed by the heartlessness of others. Especially in a civilized, supposedly advanced society. I’m afraid people are being inured to violence, but even more to death. It’s all we read about on the news, worldwide. And so, I think people become desensitized. “Soul sickeningly” so. I think we need an awakening, a rebirth of sensitivity. How it will happen, I simply don’t know. Wonderful piece, Meg. Thank you.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more. in the 50’s my brothers played with toy guns and my sons made guns of paper towel rolls, my vacuum cleaner attachments, legos, etc. but society hadn’t started shooting everyone. When faced with this situation the child comes first.

  4. When the media that is supposed to provide us with truth because a propaganda tool for those who know keeping us divided benefits them, what we’re seeing is inevitable.

  5. Well said. I applaud you.

  6. One of your best commentaries. I think you should submit it to The New York Times. It should be read by a very wide audience. Great writing as usual.

  7. Living in the UK and looking at the USA through the prism of the events and issues that hit the news here, it seems that a powerful element of your society is riddled with fears and terrors.. unarmed young people and children are shot because there is a terror of what they might do next.. even with a toy gun..or no gun at all..

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