The Tamir Rice decision and why 'outrage fatigue' only hurts us
Once again, a grand jury has decided not to indict a police officer for killing a black child. And for those who desperately cry out for justice, watching these cases unfold the same way, time after time, is enough to leave you with outrage fatigue. Or as civil rights warrior Fannie Lou Hamer once called it “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Outrage fatigue comes with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. The sense that our lives are completely being devalued. We’ve been angry by the steady stream of injustice for so long that we often must find solace from the frustrations and disappointments that eat at the hope we had in America and for our children. As a result, we ignore the news and any serious conversations with our friends and on social media that reminds of us our second-class citizen treatment.
This time, it is the case of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy shot to death by Cleveland police for holding a toy gun in a park. Police were barely on the scene for a heartbeat before they shot the boy to death. There was a video of the incident, but what difference does it make? Apparently, when a black child is involved and the video is more than clear, there will be no indictment in a society where whites perceive black children as older and less innocent than white children.
Why does this continue to happen? And how can we possibly have faith in a system where police can kill our children without the possibility of a trial to determine guilt or innocence? Are we still living on the plantation, where the slave patrols had the power of life and death over us, and there was no recourse because we had no rights white people were bound to respect?
Sadly, I am not surprised, and those who watched this case closely should not be surprised the grand jury failed to indict officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback. But that doesn’t mean you should not be outraged. The problem was, and is, the prosecutor.
It was once said that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Yet, for all of the cases of police-related deaths, still, many chief prosecutors — who are elected politicians on the state and county level — rarely seem to have the will to go after police officers. This is a system where 95 percent of the prosecutors are white, 83 percent are men, and only 1 percent are women of color, such Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Meanwhile, a multitude of innocent black and poor people possibly languish in prison for crimes they did not commit — due to overzealous and sometimes corrupt and racist prosecutors.
If Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty wanted to indict those officers, believe they would be indicted. As William J. Campbell, a former federal district judge in Chicago, said: “[T]oday, the grand jury is the total captive of the prosecutor who, if he is candid, will concede that he can indict anybody, at any time, for almost anything, before any grand jury.” And yet, McGinty dragged the process along for over a year, and to show he had no intent of prosecuting these officers, he released three “expert” reports claiming the cops were justified in shooting Tamir to death.
“After this investigation — which took over a year to unfold — and Prosecutor McGinty’s mishandling of this case, we no longer trust the local criminal-justice system, which we view as corrupt,” said Tamir’s family in a statement. “Prosecutor McGinty deliberately sabotaged the case, never advocating for my son, and acting instead like the police officers’ defense attorney. In a time in which a non-indictment for two police officers who have killed an unarmed black child is business as usual, we mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice,” the family added.
“Life and death decisions are made every day by police officers across the country, but the benefit of the doubt is often given in the preservation of white lives, while the presumption of guilt, dangerousness and suspicion, time after time, is reserved for black lives,” said President and CEO Cornell William Brooks. “The tragedy of Tamir Rice must be seen with unblinking clarity through the lens of a series of incidents of police misconduct committed by members of the Cleveland Police Department over years. Cleveland has a long record of police misconduct subject to multiple and serial federal investigations,” Brooks added.
The fact of the matter is that prosecutors depend on the police to help them with the evidence and testimony needed to prosecute their cases. And it is for that reason — other than the fact they may not value black life — that many simply will not bite the hand that feeds them. So it must be taken out of their hands, possibly even placed in the hands of state authorities, or when that will not work, the U.S. Department of Justice.
This requires work and it is why we must fight against our outrage fatigue. It only creates apathy, and apathy will only aid those who seek to silence our demands for change. When our local prosecutors are unresponsive to the will and needs of the people and respond with callousness, indifference and neglect in the face of black lives lost, we must vote them out. And we must protest using our voices, our feet and most importantly our dollars to demand accountability from our elected officials. This is the only way to truly end the outrage and to prevent the death of another innocent young black boy at the hands of the police.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove