Focusing on the racial aspect of an officer-involved shooting is too simple a response.
When a news story breaks about the police killing an unarmed citizen—particularly when it’s a person of color—both the public and the media immediate lock in on two questions: was it justifiable and was it about race?
These are fair questions, considering it satisfies the mainstream narratives and paints a partial enough picture to catalyze protests, panels and political punditry.
However, just asking those question alone doesn’t pain a fair and accurate picture of the incident that took place and more importantly, the series of events and communications – or lack thereof – that led up to it. Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, Executive Director, Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, recommends we come from a deep moral position and asks ourselves, and each other: do we really want people involved in fatal incidents with police officers over traffic stops and minor offenses.
The benefits of expanding the query, according to Mr. Anderson, is to look at the entire set of circumstances and try to understand why so many incidents are escalating, in order to develop more preventive measures and institute better training modules.
Without question, racial bias drives the escalation of some of these incidents. And while Mr. Anderson—and the large majority of the pubic—will agree with me to a certain extent on that statement, he personally doesn’t think white police officers are waking up in the morning and killing unarmed black males for sport.
“That’s a very simplistic view of how human beings operate,” he said, noting, in fairness, that just because a person is unarmed during a tense interaction with police doesn’t mean they weren’t of a criminal intent and that lethal force wasn’t justified.
Unfortunately, a simplistic view is how most Americans prefer to digest complicated issues. For example, in the case of 12 year-old Tamir Rice from Cleveland, the officer who did the shooting was immediately painted as a trigger happy racist cop by a large number of people who caught wind of the incident.
But when you expand the query and look at the entire set of circumstances, it becomes less about race, in my opinion, and more about negligent behavior, both on the side of the Cleveland Police Department—who hired Tim Loehmann, Tamir Rice’s killer, despite him being deemed unfit for duty by the his former employer, the Independence (Ohio) Police Department—and the parents and guardians of Mr. Rice, who left him unsupervised in a public space with a realistic looking airsoft gun.
Clearly we have a race issue in America that leads to a disproportionate number of black males being stopped, frisked, choked and fatally wounded by police officers. This issue shouldn’t be downplayed and deserves meaningful conversation. But in the same respect, we have an equally gross problem with the construct of the system itself and the way American police officers are trained to deescalate situations.
Let’s paint the whole picture and have a deeper analysis into the soul of this nation, a conversation about acceptable police conduct and preservation of all lives.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™