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Shhh, White People — And Listen

One morning earlier this week, my friend Kate and I were walking through our Cleveland neighborhood when our conversation, conducted at a safe distance from each other, turned to the funeral of Tamir Rice.

Only Pastor Kate would think to remember my story from that day.

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Deadlocked Charleston Jury Is Another Big Letdown

“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”  – MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

“Make me want to holler, way they do my life.” – MARVIN GAYE

I find myself burdened by the faith of my elders.

They were generations of cooks and farmers, poets and laborers, of porters and housekeepers, soldiers and slaves, and they navigated a very different America.

It was an America of signs barring entrance, and torture killings in the town square and how much am I bid for this fetching wench who is sure to bear you a litter of pickaninnies.

Yet somehow, for the most part, they never lost the conviction that this thing called America could be hammered into conformity with its own values if only they were patient enough, tough enough, resilient and excellent enough, to see it done. So they hammered at it.

And they hammered at it.

And in the course of time, they passed the hammer down to me. And I have hammered as best I know how.

But Lord, I am just tired.

On Monday, a jury in South Carolina deadlocked in the trial of a former North Charleston police officer who shot a black man named Walter Scott in the back.

There was cell phone video, so jurors knew that when Michael Slager said he feared for his life, he was lying.

What threat is posed by the back of an unarmed man — even a black one — who is 18 feet away and running from you?

And yet, a panel of 11 white people and one African-American could not find it in themselves to hold Slager accountable for this summary execution, could not bring themselves to say that this black life mattered.

This comes a year after a Cleveland grand jury declined to indict a police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice dead, two years after a Staten Island jury declined to indict the police officer who choked the life out of Eric Garner, three years after a jury in Sanford, Fla. acquitted the self-deputized neighborhood watchman who stalked and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, 24 years after a jury in Ventura County, Calif. acquitted four police officers who beat Rodney King very nearly to death, 61 years after a jury in Sumner, Miss. acquitted two white men who murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till so savagely that he was found with his right eyeball resting on his cheek.

It comes four years after the Supreme Court tore down the Voting Rights Act because it worked too well.

It comes a month after white supremacy was elected president.

And it comes about four months after NFL player Colin Kaepernick, later joined by other, mostly-African-American athletes, first refused to stand for the national anthem.

Infuriated white conservatives could not understand why this handful of black people would not rise to honor America. Frankly, the marvel is not that some black people don’t stand, but that most still do.

You get tired of being disappointed, you know? You get sick of being let down.

Yet I am challenged by the hope of my elders.

I hear King reminding me how the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice.

I hear Thomas L. Jennings declaring that “our claims are on America.”

I hear Curtis Mayfield ordering me to keep on pushing and Sam Cooke prophesying that a change is going to come and Mahalia Jackson testifying how she got over.

And I know that probably, eventually, my elders will beguile me back into faith, convince me there are reasons to keep hammering at America’s ideals, or stand for America’s song.

But in this moment of fresh betrayal? Sorry, elders.

I’m damned if I can think of one.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

IMAGE: Judy Scott (R) is held by her son Rodney after a hung jury was announced in the trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager outside the Charleston County Courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

What Happens When White Men Are Scared Of Black Men

It happened because a white man was scared.

Chase Coleman was on a park road, probably lost and confused, having straggled far behind the pack — he’s a cross-country runner from Syracuse, N.Y. — when the white man got out of his car and shoved him. A witness said Chase flew back 10 feet and landed on his backside.

Because that white man was scared.

He had no reason to be. As described by witnesses in the Washington Post and on Syracuse.com, Chase is a gangly black kid, 15 years of age, who weighs about 130 pounds. The white man is said to be very tall and to weigh twice that.

But that white man was scared.

Fifty-seven-year-old Martin MacDonald told police he feared that Chase — on foot, unarmed, wearing a runner’s uniform with a number pinned to his chest — might mug MacDonald’s wife, who was in the car next to him. MacDonald was also incensed the boy did not respond to his commands to get out of the road.

But Chase has autism and is nearly nonverbal. He doesn’t respond to much of anything.

Except running. He’s not very good at it, often finishes last. But his mom says being on his high school track team is one of the few ways he has ever been able to participate with others, to connect to the world beyond his unknowable thoughts. He loves running.

Or did. Chase turned in his uniform after the Oct. 14 incident.

His mother sought a warrant to arrest her son’s attacker on a charge of harassment, which carries a maximum 15-day sentence. In an act of breathtaking moral obtuseness, a judge in Rochester, where this happened, turned her down. In a victory for systemic bigotry, the judge is African American. On Monday, police said their investigation was ongoing.

Which is all well and good. But try to picture some burly black man assaulting an autistic white boy. Try to conceive of authorities still hemming and hawing about it almost three weeks later. You can’t. Not even Stephen King has that much imagination.

How many times have black people bled because white men were scared? Of retribution or uprising. Of robbery or rape. Of social equality and the loss of place and prerogative. Of blackness itself.

Tamir Rice was shot and killed within two seconds because a white man was scared.

Trayvon Martin was stalked and killed because a white man was scared.

Levar Jones was shot while complying with a state trooper’s command because the trooper, a white man, was scared.

White men’s fear has long been the story of black people’s lives and deaths. It is a story told in spectacle lynchings and burning schoolhouses, in poll taxes and restrictive covenants.

Someone will say violent crime statistics justify a white man’s fear. They don’t. To the contrary, they warn that if you are fated to be victimized, the attacker will probably look a lot like you.

Someone else will say that not all white men are scared and that some actively fight against fear. This, of course, is true.

But what does that matter to Chase? How do you explain any of this to an indrawn boy who had been used to adults being kind to him? How do you tell him that he terrifies some people just by standing in a road, lost? How do you make him understand what can happen when white men are scared?

Consider that a man assaulted him, then justice betrayed him, and that our whole history suggests that it could have been much worse. Then ask yourself:

Who should be frightened of whom?

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

IMAGE: Via The Washington Post

 

Cleveland Police Union Chief’s Rhetoric Is a Growing Danger

There is a stain darkening the city of Cleveland, and it is threatening to leach so many good intentions here as we prepare to welcome tens of thousands of visitors to the Republican National Convention.

This stain has a name: Steve Loomis. He is president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association. Unbelievably, he is also a member of the Cleveland Community Police Commission, which was mandated by a federal court to come up with policy reforms for a police department that he thinks needs no fixing.

If I’ve learned anything about Loomis from our long, meandering interviews, it’s his certainty that there’s nothing wrong with the Cleveland police force that a more appreciative, compliant population wouldn’t fix. Over many months, his ill will has seeped out, bringing dishonor to the men and women he was elected to represent and telegraphing an open disdain for the community he is charged to protect.

We saw Loomis at it again this week, only hours after the city of Cleveland announced a $6 million settlement with the family of Tamir Rice.

Tamir is the 12-year-old black boy who was playing with an air pellet gun in a city park in November 2014 when a police car swept up next to him in response to a call from a 9-1-1 dispatcher, who failed to convey the witness’s belief that his gun was not real. Seconds later, Tamir was on the ground, mortally wounded by gunshots from a police officer who, personnel files later revealed, should never have been hired.

Our city — in our neighborhoods, I mean, where we see boys like Tamir every day — has never stopped reeling from this boy’s death.

The prosecutor who failed to call for a grand jury indictment against the two white officers lost re-election in this year’s Democratic primary. Nationally, we are the consent-decree city now. Reporters occasionally still sweep in to see what, if any, progress we’re making in the wake of a 58-page Department of Justice report that chronicled a pattern of unreasonable and excessive force so extreme and systemic — and unconstitutional — that reforms must unfold through court supervision.

From day one, Loomis has blasted that report as riddled with lies and the consent decree as a waste of his time.

With the announcement of the financial settlement of the Rice family’s civil suit against the city, there was a collective sigh of relief from those of us who have yearned for something more than that hollow space between the wringing of hands from good people who feel helpless and the insistence of racists that Tamir had it coming.

The money does not bring justice, because not one cent of it will bring back Tamir Rice. It comes with no admission of guilt, either, on the part of the city. But for a moment at least, we could allow ourselves the fantasy that somewhere, in the depths of relentless official denial, burns an ember of regret.

And then Loomis weighed in, with a written statement that read, in part:

“We can only hope the Rice family and their attorneys will use a portion of this settlement to help educate the youth of Cleveland in the dangers associated with the mishandling of both real and facsimile firearms. Something positive must come from this tragic loss. That would be educating youth of the dangers of possessing a real or replica firearm.

“We look forward to the possibility of working with the Rice family to achieve this common goal.”

Immediately, I thought of Samaria Rice, who told me last year in an interview for Politico that she watches that video clip of her son’s shooting over and over, tracking his every moment — looking for a sign, any sign, that Tamir knew what was about to happen to him. She told me how she had fixed him lunch just an hour before, how she never had seen the air pellet gun he was hiding in his jacket because he knew his mother would never have allowed him to play with it.

So typical of Loomis to blame the victim and — as I am increasingly discovering through dozens of off-the-record interviews with his rank-and-file members — to misrepresent the men and women he is supposed to champion. He is “an embarrassment,” they tell me. He is making their “jobs harder.” He is, an officer told me last month, possibly putting their lives at greater risk by casting the Cleveland police as mortal enemies of our neighborhoods.

If Loomis does not dial back his rhetoric, he could endanger not just Cleveland’s citizens and its police officers but also the many guests and activists who will soon swarm this city for what is already expected to be a contentious Republican National Convention.

The stain is spreading, and there is no substitute for leadership to make it stop.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Jun 9, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Tadar Muhammad (right) and Jeremy Brustein (left) demonstrate in support of Tamir Rice outside of Quicken Loans Arena prior to game three of the NBA Finals. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports