You are a police officer, newly-minted, and you have been sent to investigate a claim of an armed teen in a city park. You see a boy, not much taller than your son, the bulge of a gun evident at his hip. Approaching with caution, you order the boy to raise his hands, but he doesn’t need to see the navy blue uniform to know you are an Enemy.
You are a police officer, and you want to go home, but the boy’s hand darts to his hip. His shirt lifts, revealing grey metal underneath. You know he means to shoot, and now your own gun is in your hands. It doesn’t tremble, though your heart does. You won’t, can’t shoot–he’s just a boy–and you think again of your son. But you shake yourself; this isn’t your son, this is a threat, and you must decide.
You have one second.
A Cleveland police officer decided to shoot. The boy in question — Tamir Rice — was 12, black, and the gun he possessed was later found to be a toy. Though true in the sense the gun could not fire, it was a replica capable of fooling any eye, and the orange safety indicator identifying it as a fake had been removed. That officer was threatened, that officer wanted to go home, but in the post-Ferguson wake, the public has smitten all law enforcement for this “brutality.”
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, outraged by professed racism, posted a picture of a firearm on Instagram along with the caption, “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours……Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMikeBrown.” He proceeded to shoot and kill two police officers in Brooklyn, simply because they wore navy uniforms.
But navy does not guarantee malice, just as it does not guarantee moral soundness. It’s appalling that racism affects police perception, but I don’t believe the police in question would have acted on racism alone. We tend to let officers disappear into one faceless navy mob, attributing any and all tragedies to a “broken system.”
Those facing these situations, however, are most often individuals–with children, hope, fears. They had lives ahead of them as did Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice: the lives we fought to avenge. We can’t expect officers not to react if threatened, and threats are becoming blurry.
Rice wielded a toy gun that was as good as real, but criminals have painted firearms to look like Nerf guns and prompt police hesitation. Other enthusiasts simply purchase Hello-Kitty-patterned firearms, further confounding threat identification. Officers retain one second to defend themselves–not enough to sift through all real and fake weaponry.
While this is no excuse to those who have lost loved ones, these circumstances are no-win situations.
Shoot: face charges; slander.
Shoot but don’t kill: subject still capable of deadly retaliation.
Fail to act: death.
But if there is a way to win: police return home to their families; criminals are apprehended; innocents are released–I will listen.
You have one second.