Tamir Rice’s family, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ people, the ‘All Lives Matter’ people, the PR People for the Cleveland Police, Cleveland Media Outlets… well, everyone still talking about the entire situation, really need to shut their stupid mouths.
While it may seem like a harsh sentiment to put into print, stay with me: I do have a point.
I am a Cleveland native. Up until two years ago, I lived in that city my entire life.
My father was a Cleveland Police officer for 32 years. While he has been dead and gone for over a decade, and he had been fortunate enough to spend majority of his career in relative quiet, what he did not anticipate about his choice of employment is the impression that he left on his family with respect to the ‘policeman’s life’.
I’m not saying that I’m an expert on police behavior. What I am saying is that I have a better understanding of what being a police officer does to a person. This is a perspective that most, if not all, media outlets fail to acknowledge, let alone recognize.
With respect to what policing over any length of time will do to a man or woman, what everyone disregards is the simple idea that being a member of law enforcement will change a person in ways that they didn’t think were possible.
Any member of law enforcement has a front row seat to people at their worst. If they are not prepared for this change, it will change them for the worse. If they aren’t prepared for that kind of change, they won’t be the picture of the person that they were. Instead, they’ll be the image of that person left on the negative.
My father wasn’t any exception to this. His career started in the 1960’s and ended in the early to mid 1990’s. He started like everyone else (as a patrolman), spent time as a homicide cop, and ended his career in SIU (booking and fingerprinting).
According to my mother being a police officer made him jaded.
Understandably so. During his career he experienced the Hough Riots, the fallout from Danny Greene and all of the associated Mafioso, the homicide rate alone… Cleveland was not the place it is today.
I know the neighborhood where Tamir was killed rather well.
While that area, as well as other parts of Cleveland have been riding the urban renewal train (and have been making progress, albeit incrementally) that area is fucked up.
Cleveland, like most modern metropoli, is built out of neighborhoods that belong to certain ethnicities. (When I use the word ‘belong’ I’m not implying any sort of racial connotation. Although that’s exactly what it is: Hough, Fairfax, and East Cleveland, are largely African American, West and Southern Cleveland are largely European…).
When I was growing up, the further away from Downtown you lived, the better off you and your family were (economically speaking). In some respects, it’s still like that today.
Around the turn of the 20th century, if you had a job in Cleveland, it was undoubtedly somewhere Downtown. Because of that, the first neighborhoods that popped up were established around the center of the city. These neighborhoods still stand today. However, if you were to drive through some the less gentrified ones, you would:
- Lock your car door regardless of what skin tone you possess.
- Immediately notice how close the homes are to each other. Close, as in, they are single family homes that practically share walls with the neighboring homes.
These neighborhoods were erected when everyone knew everyone else. All of the kids went to the same school. Everyone’s father worked downtown and everyone’s mother knew everyone else’s mother.
As time went on, suburbs like West Park, Fairview, and North Olmsted were established presumably in an effort to give people a quieter sense of community. What unintentionally happened was that the growth of these suburbs eliminated the need to seek employment in Downtown Cleveland. As a result of this, people moved out of the old neighborhood in an effort to look for a better place to live while giving their children more opportunities for advancement.
As a further result of this, the first neighborhoods that popped up around the city went into a state of decline. Homes once populated by ‘old world’ families became vacant because the kids moved away and the parents were too old to keep up with repairs. Those houses were torn down or stood vacant. Other homes became low rent housing that attracted ne’er-do-wells of all colors.
One neighborhood that fits this bill and is still waiting for gentrification to strike is the neighborhood where Tamir was killed.
There’s absolutely no denying that Officer Lehmann fucked up bad. A few days after the story broke, the footage of the incident was released and there was denying it: this kid was murdered and the CPD tried to justify it.
Police corruption happens. This isn’t anything completely new or out of the ordinary.
What made this the positively catastrophic situation that it is, is the fact that it was one in a series of events where a white police officer had assaulted, and even murdered, an African American.
Because of this fact, popular media outlets latched on to the story and the surface details like a plecostomus catfish, shouting to anyone within earshot about police brutality and the rise of racism in America.
As if racism had ever went away in the first place.
If you were to do a quick Wikipedia search of the Civil Rights Movement, you can see that the movement started in the 1950’s and essentially ended around 1984.
At that time, equality had been reached but not fully achieved and the world at large had generally taken the necessary steps to move on with their lives. This generally came in the form of accepting that people who have a different skin tone aren’t that much different from yourself.
What’s not touched upon when the topic of Civil Rights comes up is that the only thing that changed throughout the course of the Movement was that it become socially unacceptable to say ‘racist’ things in public.
Admittedly, I hadn’t been paying close attention to all of the demonstrations and protests that had been happening in Cleveland shortly after Tamir was killed. I know it’s petty but the majority of the protestors and demonstrators pictured appeared to be childless children, or young people in their 20’s.
When I saw all of those young faces, the thought I had then, which is the thought I still have now, is how can you protest something that you obviously haven’t lived long enough to experience? Yes, it is great that people took to the streets to point their collective finger at corruption, but if you haven’t experienced any form of racism first hand, be it by the hand of a cop, or the hand of someone that you could call peer, do you fit as a part of the mob? Or should you go back to your mother’s basement.
Maybe I’m just being old. I know that you’re supposed to be an asshole at that age. You’re supposed to think that your opinion matters and that you’ll eventually change the world. It is my sincere hope that every one of those kids who took to the streets of Cleveland will get to that point in their lives when they realize that the most powerful act of change that they can invoke in any situation is to just be nice.
Like most people, what renewed my interest in this matter was the fact that neither officer was prosecuted. The released security footage of the entire incident, the fact that the officer’s involved covered it up, and the additional fact that the offending officer had falsified his application to the police department… I’m still scratching my head over the matter.
Then a thought struck me: If the cops beat the charges, there has to be something that I wasn’t aware of.
There would appear to be a lot that I wasn’t actually aware of.
Samaria, Tamir’s mother had been convicted of drug trafficking. Tamir’s father, Leonard, has been convicted numerous times of domestic abuse. Additionally, Samaria has been the victim of domestic violence not only by Tamir’s father but also by other boyfriends after the fact.
For the record, the above items came out shortly after the shooting. As best as I can understand, these facts were dismissed from public view because they were written off as character assassination.
Regardless, it begs the question: If Tamir had witnessed any of this, of his mother dealing drugs, of his father beating his mother (or his mother’s boyfriends beating her) would he have known better than to point a toy gun that looked like a real gun at random people? Probably not.
As a parent, there are a lot of unanswered questions that still bother me about this tale of woe.
What was the mother doing? Why didn’t the sister tell Tamir to knock that shit off? Was he playing by himself? Or with a group of friends? Was he harassing people at the park or just pointing the gun at them? If the park was across the street from the house couldn’t the mother her see what was going on?
In all likelihood, I won’t have any of these questions answered. The world will keep turning, and the majority of the people that I share air with, will only be concerned about the surface details. Tamir is gone. No amount of yelling and screaming is going to change this or any of the facts that demonstrate that the CPD dropped the ball.
If anything were to change this, it would be the quiet acknowledgment that everyone has failed. Samaria & Leonard, the sister that was supposed to be watching him, the broken system of law enforcement that is supposed to make everyone feel safe, the demonstrators & the bystanders. In accepting this, maybe we can all take the steps that we need to take in order to just be nicer to each other.