UPDATE: On Tuesday, after the post below was published, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that the Ohio will soon review police dispatching methods. This is significant because critical information -- that Rice's gun was likely fake--was reportedly shared with a 9-11 dispatcher but not police. You can read more about Kasich's Tuesday comments here in story from the campaign trail filed by The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe.
Sometimes, it is indeed better to say nothing at all.
That can be especially true when your statement reveals more about that which you really think and prioritize than you probably know.
Yet, in the wake of an Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosecutor's announcement Monday that a grand jury had declined to bring charges against police officers involved in the shooting death of Tamir Rice, there were many, many statements released and made. And many seemed far more concerned with the protection of property and dissuading what several public officials all but implied is an inherent propensity for black Americans to riot than the question of justice or the horrible death of a 12-year-old boy.
None of these statements, by contrast, acknowledges that, of the 975 police shootings around the country this year, identified and detailed by The Washington Post, 419 (42.9 percent) left a black or Latino person dead. Not one says explicitly that since only 30 percent of the nation's population is black or Latino (combined), this data alone is a large and pressing indicator that something about the way that people of color are policed in the United States might be terribly wrong and incredibly dangerous -- and here, by the way, is what we are going to do about it today.
Let's review just three of those statements, shall we?
"The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it. Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunication by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police. ... If we put ourselves in the victim’s shoes, as prosecutors and detectives try to do, it is likely that Tamir — whose size made him look much older and who had been warned that his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day — either intended to hand it to the officers or to show them it wasn’t a real gun. But there was no way for the officers to know that because they saw events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective."
-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty
"Tamir Rice's death was a heartbreaking tragedy and I understand how this decision will leave many people asking themselves if justice was served. We all lose, however, if we give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us. We have made progress to improve the way communities and police work together in our state, and we're beginning to see a path to positive change so every one shares in the safety and success they deserve. When we are strong enough together to turn frustration into process we take another step up the higher path."
-Ohio Gov. and GOP presidential candidate John Kasich
"The Grand Jury has decided not to indict. We understand that many in our community did not expect this result. I have instructed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff to work with other local law enforcement officers to protect the rights of our citizens to peaceful protest. I pray that our citizens will follow the words and non-violent actions of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: 'We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.'”
-Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish
Each is notably brief and issued by a different man with a different but official public role. The first seeks to explain and then nearly blame Rice for his own demise. It leans heavy and hard on the very same pernicious stereotypes about race, size and safety that appear to have played at least some role in Rice's death and ultimately concludes that a 12-year old's failure to understand or behave as if that threat is real and legitimate is what renders this an unfortunate accident but clearly no crime.
The second acknowledges, at least in brief, the horror of a 12-year-old boy's death and the reality that there will be no punishment. But it turns quickly -- almost dismissively -- toward telling those most likely to look at pictures of a now-dead Rice and fear the same fate for their own children precisely how they should feel and act. It comes quite close to belittling the emotions and political concerns those in particular peril of deadly police contact might feel in the wake of the prosecutor's decision and demands yet more faith in an existing system, the existing leadership and its commitment to "share" safety and success. And, of course, there is the subtle allusion, to Martin Luther King's nonviolent approach to political protest and change, which is widely revered today but during his lifetime was widely loathed and belittled.
The third strings together a succession of seemingly empathetic words. It does, at the very least, acknowledge that there might be some legitimacy in organized efforts to express concern or disagreement with the prosecutor's decision. But, like the statements before it, the third seems to turn rather quickly toward recommendations for peace and an effort to direct public attention to the great African-American mascot for peace and change, King. This King and his social justice battle always comes with none of the messiness, the disruption, the disdain and the danger that King or others anywhere near a sit-in or a bus boycott endured. It utterly ignores the violence with which King contended during his life, the brutal way in which he died, who killed him and why.
And if by chance the problems with these statements still remain unclear, consider this sampling of what America's often-snarky but sometimes-incredibly shrewd virtual woodshed -- Twitter -- had to say about the prosecutor's announcement and some of the statements that followed.
— Thelonious Legend (@TheLegendBooks) December 28, 2015
@bomani_jones "Listen, we're gonna treat you like crap& often take from you the things you value most but please don't lengthen my commute"
— Andre Forbes (@andref1989) December 28, 2015
@bomani_jones Yeah, like “take this 12 year old’s death on the chin."
— Lawrence Ross (@alpha1906) December 28, 2015
After announcing that no officer will be charged in the killing of #TamirRice, the prosecutor then continues to blame Tamir for his death.
— deray mckesson (@deray) December 28, 2015
Sad state of our criminal justice system, where we are no longer fighting for convictions, we are simply trying to get to trial. #TamirRice
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) December 28, 2015
The racism in Timothy J. McGinty's comments about #TamirRice being "older-looking" and wearing a size 36 jeans was so overt and heinous.
— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) December 28, 2015
— Charles Wade (@akacharleswade) December 28, 2015
There is, in fact, a far longer and wide-ranging list of events, announcements and situations that have prompted white Americans to strike out in political rage, to engage in organized and mob violence, than any other group in the United States. That is a fact. So, events in predominantly black communities the 1960s or even more recently in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore do not alone sufficiently explain what is and is not included in the three official statements up above.
In much the same way, solid social science tells us that all those references to Rice's size 36 pants Tuesday, his size, as well as the veiled requests that those who might be most disgusted with the prosecutor's decision express that concern without violence, were not mere coincidence. The same is true about talk of superhuman strength and ability and the instant assessments of deadly threat that show up of officer statements and testimony about the deaths of unarmed black people who encounter police. It's this social science that begins to explain why American jails hold and its police officers kill more people than those in almost any other developed country in the world. It begins to explain why of all the things public officials thought it necessary to say today, few if any said here's what is going to change so what happened to Tamir Rice does not happen again.
To be clear, none of the assessments of statements made today and listed here deny that Ohio public officials have reason to privately discuss or prepare to maintain safety and order on city streets at all times. These rank among the duties of a government and almost any public official. But it is the return of elected officials to a stereotype -- a stereotype that, at first, is used to justify aggressive, sometimes-deadly policing, and then secondly to all but advise those most deeply affected to resist their allegedly inherent tendency toward political violence -- that produces some level of outrage. And the recommendations that people place more faith in the system that keeps failing them and their children again and again, can, in this light, appear insane.
The Fix cannot read the minds of the men who issued these statements or the staff members who almost certainly wrote them. They are most likely all well-intentioned. But they have also been shaped by some of the same ideas that created this mess in the first place. They were issued by people at the helm of a system that just declared, for all practical purposes, that no one really did anything wrong here, although a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun is dead.
These statements are not simply insufficient for the leadership needed in a country where questions about race, fairness, policing and public safety loom large. They border quite close to insulting at this moment in time.