by Charles M. Blow
CLEVELAND — So far, the Republican National Convention in Cleveland has been a slapdash spectacle of the absurd, with processions of B-list politicians and Z-list celebrities jockeying for the title of biggest embarrassment.
Tuesday was supposed to follow the theme of “Make America Work Again” — something President Obama has already done to a large degree, for the record — but instead of presenting work programs, policies or proposals, the convention got the vice-presidential also-ran Chris Christie to conduct a Salem witch trial against Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Ben Carson, the retired brain surgeon with permanent brain freeze, tried to link Clinton to Lucifer.
Oh, to what depths has the Grand Old Party descended?
But the first day, the one themed “Make America Safe Again,” was perhaps the most egregious.
Again there was a prosecution of Clinton — and also Obama — more than a promotion of the already too self-promoting standard-bearer. It was an unending stream of fear, outrage and escalating agitation, as if the speakers were tossing chum to sharks. Rather than an expansive vision, they delivered restrictive insecurity. It was philosophically small.
One piece of this message involved the lifting up and honoring of America’s police, shouts of “Blue Lives Matter!” and an unhinged Rudy Giuliani screaming about an alternate universe of race-blind policing.
Recognizing that the police have hard jobs, and, when properly performed, those jobs are both honorable and necessary, is fine. But there is another part of the equation that was barely voiced in the hall, which is the lack of safety that black and brown Americans feel, and indeed experience, when facing the police.
Credit Samaria Rice)
Giuliani’s only hint at this (and the only one I heard from any of the speakers) was this:
“We also reach out. We reach out our arms with understanding and compassion to those who have lost loved ones because of police shootings — some justified, some unjustified.”
It was in no way lost on me that the Republicans are holding their convention in an arena just 10 minutes away from Cudell Recreation Center, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice, playing with a pellet gun in an adjacent park, was shot in the stomach (within two seconds of officers’ arriving on the scene). He later died of his injuries.
Tamir’s ashes now rest in a blue and white marble urn, surrounded by his toys, in a curio cabinet in the dining room of his mother, Samaria. She cannot rest. She cannot be set right. The grand jury for the case declined to indict the officer who killed Tamir.
Independent investigations into the case determined that the officer who shot Tamir had behaved “reasonably.”
But, as Olevia Boykin, Christopher Desir and Jed Rubenfeld pointed out inThe New York Times in January:
“Racial bias can affect what seems reasonable. Individuals of all races in America perceive black people as more aggressive and dangerous than white people. Studies show that black people are seen as being physically stronger and less prone to feeling pain than people of other races, and black children are often perceived to be older than they are. When faced with an armed black target, shooters are both more likely to shoot and quicker to shoot than they are when faced with an armed white target. These biases can affect the way we think, judge and act. As a result, force that may seem unreasonable if used against a white person may seem perfectly “reasonable” when used against a black person.”
In April the city of Cleveland settled a wrongful-death suit brought by Tamir’s family for $6 million. And while that money may eventually be able to buy physical comforts, it can’t provide spiritual consolation.
I called Samaria Rice to ask if anyone from the R.N.C. had reached out their arms to her with “understanding and compassion.” Not a one. Especially not Giuliani, who one day after Tamir was shot, told Prof. Michael Eric Dyson (who is black) on “Meet the Press” that white officers wouldn’t be in black neighborhoods “if you weren’t killing each other.” The inclusivity of the “you” racializes that statement. Whom had Dyson killed, or Tamir? No one. The common denominator for murderous proclivities in the former mayor’s mind was coded in melanin.
This erasure of black pain to create space for blue platitudes does not stand. It’s not either/or, but both/and. Too many groups in America now — the police and citizens alike — feel threatened. Tamir and all the other people who have lost their lives in highly questionable police shootings will not simply be shunted aside. There can be no complete healing until there has been some sense of restorative justice.
On Wednesday, I met Samaria for lunch to remember Tamir and discuss how she and her family were doing since the last time I interviewed her for a column on the anniversary of Tamir’s shooting.
She seemed well, but weathered. Tamir’s siblings are in counseling. His sister, who Samaria told me stopped eating after her brother died and lost significant weight, is eating well again.
Samaria herself sounds like a woman on a mission, advocating for her son in particular, but also for “human rights” in general, as she put it, because she fears the normalization of the killings of black people by the police.
Voices like Samaria’s cannot — must not! — be absent from any discussion about keeping America safe. Tamir’s blood cries out for inclusion. His mother’s heart aches for it.
She can never get back what was taken. She can’t rewind the world.
She looked up at me solemnly over lunch and said, “I would like to be normal, and I’m not normal … anymore.” She paused, then continued, “You may be normal, but I’m not.”
Pain and loss are her new normal.