America's long, dark history of "objectively reasonable" murder

Tamir Rice was killed by police officers in the blink of an eye. They won't be punished. This is by design

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published October 13, 2015 7:25PM (EDT)

This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice. (AP Photo/Courtesy Richardson & Kucharski Co., L.P.A.)
This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice. (AP Photo/Courtesy Richardson & Kucharski Co., L.P.A.)

Racial battle fatigue makes Black America numb. However, the numbness does not mean that Black America is free from pain. Langston Hughes’ “dream deferred” feels again today like it is ready to explode. Yet miraculously, somehow it does not.

Black America is reminded once again, as though black folks have forgotten, that America does not like black men and boys—or black women and girls—very much. We are loved in the abstract as America’s musicians and athletes and sometimes by enough white folks to be elected President. But our humanity, the stuff that is the basis of shared empathy and respect across the colorline, is very much in doubt.

The White Gaze does not see black men and boys, boys and girls, as full and equal human beings. They are the semi-permanent Other. As such, black folks can be subjected to legal murder by the State, its police, armed vigilantes, and other enforcers with little punishment or consequence. Black life is cheap. This is the story of America and the Black Atlantic.

The child Tamir Rice was killed in November of 2014 by Cleveland police. Like so many other unarmed black people who have been killed by America’s police in recent years, there is video and photographic evidence of the moment when Rice's lives were stolen from him. On that day, two police,Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann (who was fired from a previous police department for incompetence) pulled up less than 10 feet from a child playing with a toy gun, and before two seconds had passed he was on the ground, fatally wounded.

Like the white cops who strangled Eric Garner, shot Michael Brown six times, or blindly fired five times into a crowd killing Rekia Boyd, it seems that these two men are not likely to be punished.

As reported by the New York Times:

“There can be no doubt that Rice’s death was tragic and, indeed, when one considers his age, heartbreaking,” Mr. Sims wrote. But he added that “Officer Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat.”

Tamir’s death resulted in a lengthy series of investigations that have frustrated some activists, who see the shooting as a clear case of police overreach and have called for the arrests of Officer Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, who drove his police cruiser to within feet of Tamir but who did not fire his weapon. Some have criticized Officer Garmback for parking his cruiser so close.

“To suggest that Officer Garmback should have stopped the car at another location is to engage in exactly the kind of ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ the case law exhorts us to avoid,” Mr. Sims wrote.

Justice is not colorblind in America. Black Americans are routinely punished more severely than white people for the same crimes. The myth of “black crime” is sustained by a criminal justice system that at almost every level (from arrests through to conviction) discriminates against black and brown people.

The law represents the interests of elites and not of the masses. In a society structured around white privilege, and founded on a Herrenvolk principle, where to be “white” is to be truly “American,” people of color are second-class citizens. The post-civil right era’s lie of racial “colorblindness” means that the inequalities along the American color line cannot be cured because to ignore the fact of race means that a society cannot effectively deal with the consequences of white supremacy. Ultimately, as Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously said, “To get beyond racism we must first take account of race. There is no other way."

The lie of colorblindness also encourages confusion, denial, and hypocrisy on matters of racial justice for many white Americans. According to recent surveys, a majority of white Americans believe, even in an era of visible and rampant police brutality against people of color, that African-Americans and whites are treated equally by local police. Even more troubling, when white Americans are shown evidence that the country’s criminal justice system is unfair and racist against blacks, they still support such outcomes.

The language of “colorblindness” and “race neutral” decision making actively buttresses racial disparities in the United States. For example, defenders of the police, and those others who would deny the grotesque way that Tamir Rice was killed, will likely appeal to the supposed “fairness” of “outside experts.”

The white racial frame legitimates those outcomes: The system is supposed to be “neutral” and “fair”, thus how can any “reasonable” person doubt the outcome? Likewise, white racial logic proceeds from an assumption that white folks are “neutral” and “rational” while by comparison non-whites are somehow “emotional,” “irrational,” and incapable of “objective” thinking.

The killing of Tamir Rice, and the subsequent finding that his unconscionable death can somehow be rationalized as “objectionably reasonable,” digs and stabs at Black America’s feelings of racial battle fatigue. It is a reminder of a profound material and philosophical dilemma: How can the law be fair to people of color when the legal system is an extension of a racist society?

White supremacy killed the child Tamir Rice. White supremacy is likely to exonerate the police who killed him.

Anti-black racism is not opinion. It is an empirically documented fact.

Tamir was killed by “adultification,” a phenomenon where black children are viewed by whites as being considerably older, and less innocent than white children. (Officer Loehmann told police dispatchers that Tamir Rice, who was 12-years-old, was actually a black man in his twenties.) Tamir was killed because police are seven times more likely to shoot unarmed black people than they are whites. Tamir was killed by implicit bias, and how large percentages of white Americans (and others) possess significant, internalized, subconscious anti-black biases. Tamir was killed by an American police culture that in cities such as Cleveland, New York, Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere routinely harasses, abuses, and kills black and brown citizens with impunity.

Tamir Rice was also killed by a broader American society where day-to-day anti-black racism is the norm. The shooting dead of unarmed black boys, girls, men, and women by the police are a type of extreme violence. But quotidian white supremacy also hurts the life chances, sanity, health, and happiness of many millions more people of color.

The United States is a country that tolerates obscene levels of racial wealth inequality, where discrimination in the labor market denies black and brown Americans a fair return on their educations, in which hospitals force racial minorities to wait longer than whites for assistance, and where black employees are more harshly assessed than their white peers.

The lie of American colorblindness is demonstrated in stark and obscene relief by how black boys in Cleveland with toy guns, where the “open carry” of firearms is allowed by law, are shot dead by the police in two seconds while white boys and men with real guns are allowed to walk free, unmolested.

Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback pulled the triggers on the guns that were used to shoot the 12-year-old child Tamir Rice. But it was White American society that actually killed him.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Police Police Violence Racism Tamir Rice White Supremacy