A little time has passed since a grand jury in Cleveland refused to indict two white police officers responsible for the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was black.
One minute this child was playing in a city park with an air pellet gun. Seconds later, after a police squad car swooped up next to him, he was on the ground — alone and mortally wounded.
After 13 months of waiting for any sign of justice, the reaction from too many white people to the grand jury decision has severed me from my will for diplomacy. I am a 58-year-old white woman, and I am sickened by how many people who look like me talk about race.
I'm no stranger to their way of thinking. My father struggled with race until the day he died, but his fear of black people he never knew could not gain traction with me. By age 6, I knew he was wrong. Whenever he pounded the table and called them those awful names, I saw the faces of exactly half of my classmates. They were my friends.
As I wrote last year for The Atlantic, "it was not the natural order of things to be so young and know your father had no idea what he was talking about." It framed our relationship for all of his days.
I share that story not to dishonor my father, whom I loved and miss to this day. I just want to make clear that I'm no neophyte when it comes to knowing what some white people believe about black people. Sometimes I think I've spent much of my career trying to make up for the harm the people I come from have inflicted on the lives of innocent strangers.
For as long as I've been a newspaper columnist — 13 years and counting — I've been on the receiving end of angry mail from white readers. One of their favorite cut-and-paste missives in emails and social media posts criticizes and even mocks what they call "black English." How they love to spew their racist rants about dialect. It makes them feel so shiny-white superior.
Their hate is couched in white English, which has nothing to do with accents. White English is a state of mind. It turns words into weapons to dehumanize an entire population of people, and it is bubbling up like pus in a dirty wound after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty convinced a grand jury that the police were justified in killing a black child playing with an air gun.
White English casts Tamir Rice, for the first time in his short life, as an equal among men — rather than as a 12-year-old boy limited by the judgment of his years.
He "should have known better." He should have "listened to the police," as if there's no reason to doubt their claim that they yelled three warnings to this child in less than two seconds.
White English repeats, over and over, that this child was "big for his age."
He's not 12-year-old Tamir; he's "Mr. Rice." Even in his grave, he grows. He is no longer 5 feet 7 inches tall.
He was 5 feet 9.
He was 5'11".
He was 6 feet tall.
He was a man.
He was a menace.
He was a thug.
White English is the language of the Superior White Parents club, where perfect children raised by perfect parents now raise perfect children of their own who would never jump around in a park and pretend to be shooting a toy gun. They know this because they have special powers that allow them to see what their perfect children are doing every minute of every day. If you dare suggest this is not possible, they will turn on you in a hot minute. How dare you question their parenting as they pick apart Tamir Rice's mother?
White English has no words to acknowledge that Samaria Rice loved her son. That she banned toy guns from their home. That she didn't know he had his friend's air gun that day.
Two months ago, in an interview for Politico, Samaria Rice told me she watches the video of the last few moments of her son's life — when he was still very much alive. She studies it, over and over, searching for any sign of what he may have been thinking right before the bullet tore through him.
"He didn't have a lot of suspicions about people," she said. "I look at him in that video and I'm wondering: 'What are you thinking right now? Do you know what's about to happen to you?'"
She was certain there would be no indictments for those police officers, she told me. She was waiting for God to tell her what comes next.
Which is worse, having your hopes dashed or knowing you will never see justice from a system that insists your child had it coming?
He was a boy.
He was a boy.
He was a boy.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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