I'm choosing to post this article in the Black Voices section of The Huffington Post today because Tyre King won't be able to write this article himself. He will not grow up and become a journalist. He will not grow up and eventually be interviewed by a journalist. In fact, he won't even tell his friends the story on Monday at school, when he returns to his eighth-grade classroom.
Tyre King has no voice. His voice is no longer with us.
Any time a thirteen-year-old boy dies - someone so young, someone with so much life in front of him - it's a sad day. When that thirteen-year-old dies of gun violence, it becomes a tragedy. We have an incredible number of guns in our country. Gun-violence is so common. I think of President Obama saying, "Shame on us," in 2013, if we can't have stronger gun-control laws in this country.
But when gun violence is perpetrated by uniformed police officers, the angle of light changes. We're not sure what to think. We see a political split. A national divide.
Black Lives Matter.
Blue Lives Matter.
The stories of police shootings are not all the same, but there is a very troubling pattern. There's a narrative. And since this narrative involves police officers (government workers who should be trust-worthy, who should be serving and protecting), we're not supposed to question the narrative. We certainly aren't supposed to take the questioning further, to protest, even peacefully, or we might face slurs, threats, or backlash.
But it's my job as a writer to question. To ask questions. To dig deeper. To not accept the narrative as is. Because history is written by the victors.
Another way to say that is "history is written by those who survive."
Another way to say that is "history is written by the killers."
I know how biased that sounds, but think about it in this situation. Who's story will we hear over the next few months? Will we hear from the living, breathing police officers of Columbus, Ohio? Or will we hear the story told by a dead thirteen-year-old boy?
Attorneys representing Tyre's family said "numerous witness accounts" contradict what police said happened Wednesday. So there already is a shadow of doubt.
And since we won't hear from Tyre King himself, I have a few questions about the narrative that we've been given:
First, while police officers pursued King as the "suspect," was he actually one of the people who committed the robbery? Will we ever know since he won't stand trial?
What were the defining characteristics of the suspects? "Dark-skinned"? "Black"? "Wearing hoodies"?
And if this robbery was such a serious crime, why did the other suspect get questioned, then released? If this robbery was so serious, why wasn't the other suspect charged and then held?
Another question: Why don't the police officers of Columbus, Ohio wear body cameras? Why did the department finally "test" the use of body cameras just last month, in 2016, when the call for body cameras on all police officers nation-wide has been going on for years?
If there were videos of the final confrontation with Tyre King, and of the fatal shooting, what would that video show?
And here's where the police department's narrative makes the least sense. If, in fact, King was a correctly identified suspect, and if the police officers were justified in chasing him and attempting to arrest him, why did he pull out his very dangerous-looking BB gun?
If King did point that BB gun at police officers, then a rational person can understand why the police officers thought the BB gun was a real gun. It looks like a real gun. In most lighting situations, it probably can't be distinguished from a real gun. With little time to make a decision, I would probably think that King's BB gun was a real gun, especially if was a scared, anxious, or nervous police officer.
Thirteen-year-old boys with BB guns shoot them hundreds - if not thousands - of times. Thirteen-year-olds with BB guns know exactly how powerful BB guns are. They know - for example - that a BB gun can puncture a Pepsi can, but can't puncture a soup can. To make it clear: they know how weak BB guns are. Certainly, Tyre King knew how weak his BB gun was in actuality. So if he knew how weak his BB gun was, why would he pull that BB gun out of his waistband and aim it at police officers?
This is the narrative that we're supposed to believe is true. He threatened the officers with his BB gun. In their minds, they were in mortal danger.
But why would Tyre King think that he could do real gun battle with his BB gun? Why would he think that his BB gun could win against police officers using firearms and wearing bullet-proof vests?
What thirteen-year-old is that foolish?
Was Tyre King perhaps handing his BB gun over to the police when he was shot?
Was he telling them that he had a BB gun but they only heard the word "gun"?
Was King holding his BB gun by its barrel or by its handle?
Was King saying, "This is a BB gun"?
Was he telling them not to shoot? Was he begging them not to shoot?
We'll never know.
I grew up with a boy who's dad was a thirty-year veteran of the local police force. A sergeant, my friend's dad was on the SWAT team for more than twenty years. He was involved in two shootings during that time. In both instances, he shot armed suspects in the hip, and both suspects were captured alive. Both suspects went to trial and were convicted of their crimes.
I revered my friend's dad. I respected him so much. And I looked forward to dinners when he told stories about policing.
I remember when he said, "If you shoot a man in the hip, he always goes down and he always drops his weapon. It hurts so much and he can't get back up. If you shoot him in the hip, he stays alive and you don't have to live with the fact that you killed someone."
Now why isn't that police protocol?
If police officers have to shoot suspects, why do the shootings have to be lethal?
Also, how many shots does it take to subdue a suspect?
For example, does it take five bullets to subdue a thirteen-year-old boy?
This shooting reminds me of the shooting of Tamir Rice, a shooting that while not a "crime," still resulted in a $6 million settlement by the city of Cleveland with Rice's family. To clarify, cities do not pay $6 million to a family after doing everything right. The shooting of Tamir Rice was wrong, but in our country it was not deemed a "crime."
So the shooting was 6 million dollars in the wrong, but it was determined to be a "not crime"?
Is there - perhaps - something wrong with our justice system?
How long will these "not crimes" continue to happen in our country? Am I allowed to ask that question?
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