A 12-year-old black boy walks into a Cleveland park, plays with a toy gun and, within seconds of arriving, a police officer shoots him dead. His partner tackles the boy’s 14-year-old sister as she rushes to his side, handcuffs the girl and shoves her into a squad car, helpless, as her brother lay dying.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, America.
I have not written about Tamir Rice. Even for this country, there’s a too-muchness to it. This week, after a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Timothy Loehmann for Rice’s 2014 death, I decided to try.
To say this killing of black bodies by the state, without accountability, is unsustainable to our democracy. To caution that urging black people to have faith in a process that continues to fail them is Orwellian. To say the hour is late and racism is like climate change — we’re running out of time to reverse it and save the world.
I do not believe my words will have any more impact than those that have been written by editorial boards or spoken by Rice’s family. But the urge to do something, especially to hear each other saying something, at least means we’re still in the fight. No matter how ineffectual that seems, it’s when we all fall mute that we are truly undone.
That said, some of us are close to that point.
A social media campaign with the hashtag “NoJusticeNoLeBron” has begun urging Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James to stay off the court to protest the decision.
“For me, I’ve always been a guy who’s took pride in knowledge of every situation I’ve ever spoke on,” James said Tuesday night. When he played for Miami, James and teammates wore hooded sweatshirts to protest the death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, and last season he wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt in New York to protest the killing of Eric Garner. “And to be honest, I haven’t really been on top of this issue, so it’s hard for me to comment.”
Some have criticized the superstar’s response, but others, like BuzzFeed writer Joel D. Anderson, shift the burden. Anderson tweeted: “Go ask Johnny Manziel [the Cleveland Browns quarterback] about Tamir Rice. I’m not interested in placing the burden for empathy and activism on just one sports dude.”
Anderson has hit on something essential. It is understandable, and a sign of our desperation, that we think we need big voices to save us. Great when that happens, but what feels so immediately clear is that what we need are all the voices, big and small, of everyone who calls themselves American to say that this — this horror that happened to Tamir Rice — can no longer stand in this country.
I just did a year-end column on race and got more response, more hopeful striving, than for any column I’ve written. Readers emailed to thank me for helping them navigate the race place, to tell me I’m providing a service. I read those emails in the spirit they were offered, before I found out no one would be held accountable for the death of Rice.
Now I hope people take my words in the spirit in which I offer them.
Don’t read me, or use me as some kind of racial translator, without taking the next step and taking some personal responsibility for the mess we are in as a nation. Without shouldering some of the work and pain. Without doing something small, urgent, doable, about all the videos you’ve watched in the past year, and specifically about Rice. To the Jewish mother, the Southern grandfather, the feminist, the conservative who have written to say, “You’ve opened my eyes,” I say on behalf of your country, on behalf of my 13-year-old son, who is big for his age, for whom I’ve feared so much I couldn’t write about Rice until today lest I call down his fate, this is your fight, too.
Do whatever feels right. But in this new year, make a patriotic resolution: no more status quo. And do it in the name of Tamir Rice.
For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.