Monday, December 28, 2015

What if Tamir's face looked like this...

Tamir Rice was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

Tamir Rice and my son could have been classmates. They could have been friends. They could have been brothers.

Tamir Rice and my youngest son, were born 76 days apart in the summer of 2002.  On November 22, 2014, both of them were playing -- my son playing indoor soccer at Vetta and Tamir playing by himself in a city park.

Today, my son is alive. Tamir is dead.

In the year and a half after Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, I have learned how much we white people like to talk about "the facts of the case." How we like to pretend each incident stands alone and completely unrelated to any other. How we dispassionately can pick any shooting apart and rationalize any behavior because we know it will never be our child lying in the street. How we can let our own implicit bias and irrational fear of people of color help us create justification even for killing unarmed children -- because we know the face will never be the one we tuck into bed at night.

When the news came today that officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback were not going to be indicted for shooting and killing Tamir within seconds after their cruiser out of nowhere sped into the park, screeched to a stop mere feet from him (something that would terrify anyone -- 12 years old or not), I wish I could say I was surprised, but I was not.

Nor will I be surprised when the apologists for Officers Loehmann and Garmback use the same tired arguments that have been used time and time and time again. When we are asked to believe that the "facts of the case" did not support even sending this case to trial -- despite incontrovertible video evidence to the contrary.

But there are some other "facts of the case" we need to consider.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that it is open season on your child in this country. That police can kill your children with impunity. That our irrational fear as white people is more important than your child's life.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that all people are not created equal in this nation. That our Constitutional valuing of someone who was black as 3/5 of a person isn't as much in our history as we tell ourselves.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that not only do we not care about your child getting a decent education, having decent recreational facilities or adequate health care, that just being black continues to be considered a capital crime.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that her life, his life, and your life do not matter, period.

And the final fact of the case -- if Tamir's face looked like my son's -- then his parents would have had the chance to spend this afternoon the way I did ... watching the new Star Wars movie with my 13-year old son.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Based on this passage from Matthew 2, it commemorates the slaughter of innocent and unarmed children by the state:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

The slaughter continues, and Rachel is still inconsolable.

This afternoon, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of pain and rage from people who could have been Tamir's mother, father, sister, brother, classmate or cousin. From people who have seen too many of their children, sisters and brothers die at the hands of the state. And one word appears more often than the rest:


In the nearly 17 months since Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson, I have been amazed at the strength and resilience of those who have been out in the streets protesting police violence. They have not been peaceful -- nor should they have been -- but with incredibly few exceptions they have been nonviolent. Despite every reason to let their pain and rage boil over -- to say "an eye for an eye" and to give back what they have gotten -- instead they have reached back to the best of the tradition of civil disobedience, blocking streets and shutting down stores, disrupting events and stopping traffic.

As the names continue to roll on the necrology -- Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Laquan MacDonald -- they remain steadfast in their commitment, though God knows how. And our response as white St. Louis has been nothing less than shameful. We whine that we are "tired of the protests" ... not recognizing that if our children were subjected to what Tamir, Michael, Sandra, Jamar and Laquan have been, we would be burning down buildings and demanding Congressional investigations. Not recognizing that we are blessed to have some of the most incredible leaders of a generation right here in our midst.

I hear their anger. I hear their pain. I hear their frustration. I hear their exhaustion.

But do we make changes? Do we make an effort to be with them in their pain? Do we at least acknowledge that the pain and the rage and the frustration have merit? Do we say, "My God, I can't believe this has been allowed to happen for so long, we're going to do something about this right now?"

No. We make plans to build a football stadium. That is our answer.

And in this Christmas season, in this season where we celebrate God becoming human in the most vulnerable of children, we have to ask: Where is the church??

Because if we as the church have nothing to say about it. If we as a church continue to let the litany of names roll on, then we are the Church of Herod, the Church of Empire, and we blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ.

If we as the church are not leading the way demanding change and supporting those who are putting their lives on the line in protest for it, then we are merely a chaplaincy for the comfortable and should close our doors.

If we as the church are not standing with the parents in shrouded in mourning and the children shaking in fear. If we as the church care more about respectability and keeping our pledgers happy and giving than following the Christ who bids us take up our cross and head toward Jerusalem, then the church has already died and all that is left is to hold the funeral.

And particularly if we as the white church are not putting our own child's face over Tamir's, and Sandra's, and Laquan's and Michael's -- if we are not even trying to imagine the fear and the agony and the rage -- then we are missing the entire point of the incarnation, where God emptied the divine self into the most vulnerable of children even to the point of suffering the same execution by the state that those holy innocents did just after he was born.

There is wailing and loud lamentation in Ramah this night. Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.

Tamir Rice is one of Rachel's children. And he was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

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