I. am. heartbroken.

I see him in black and white, without sound, in his make-believe world. He is physically at a park somewhere in Cleveland, but I know that he’s actually somewhere far away, in his own world, a place full of sound and color where he is the hero. In that place, he might even be a cop.

Then I see a real cop car arriving at high speed, stopping too close to him, and I see him no more. I know now that Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy who was playing with his toy gun, is dead.

I. don’t. understand.

Why did the police car stop so close to him and why was he shot so quickly after the car stopped? The New York Times reports Video shows Cleveland officer shot Tamir Rice in 2 seconds. Logic tells me that the car should have stopped at the street corner, that the two officers in that car should have crouched behind the car’s two front doors, and that one of them should’ve used a bullhorn to tell Tamir to drop the gun. You know, like we see on television.

I don’t understand how these two officers didn’t see that they were approaching a boy and, thinking that he had a real gun, not give him a chance to put it down. This, not only to protect themselves, but to protect Tamir from accidentally shooting himself. Then again, if they felt that they had to shoot why not aim for the lower body instead of shooting at his chest?

I don’t understand why Tamir Rice had to die. But I do understand that a few factors contributed to his death. The toy gun looks like a real gun. The 911 caller who reported that Tamir had a gun (possibly a fake) referred to him as a “guy,” instead of saying that he was a child. The police dispatcher also used “guy” to inform the officers of the 911 call, but did not tell them that the gun could be fake.

However, something more sinister also played an important, if not a main, role in Tamir Rice’s shooting. The prevalence of guns in our country is so great, that it was easier for two police officers to assume that a young boy had a real gun in his hands than to assume that he was playing with a toy. In what other developed country would this happen? Add to that the fact that he was black, and there is no doubt that a few other assumptions were thrown into the mix as well.

There is something else too. One day after publishing my post on the Michael Brown shooting, I reach the same conclusion. Today’s police officers are being trained to protect themselves against a citizenry that is considered the enemy. This attitude combined with the militarization of the police, contributes to a war mentality. In war, you don’t shoot to stop the enemy, you shoot to kill.

This is the America that we live in today, where children are more likely than not to fear those who are supposed to serve and protect them. A country where children are not safe from guns, real or not.


Originally Published: November 27, 2014