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.”
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.