My coworker turned to me today and said, “Oh, no. The New York Times. Tamir Rice.”
I wish I could say I was surprised at the results: no indictment in the case of a police officer who shot and killed unarmed/toy gun-armed/two-armed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio about two seconds – no exaggeration, watch the video – after arriving to the playground.
A few days ago, Sandra Bland’s murder in police custody was dismissed without indictment as well.
Still, processing that this case would end so abruptly after a year had me at a loss for words, awkwardly chuckling, smiling, making ambiguous and disjointed comments about the future and the irrelevant fact that a new year is beginning…
I knew it was coming, yet the most disappointing about living in the United States since Trayvon Martin’s murder is the numbness. I vividly remember tearing up on my brother’s 12th birthday this year – he’s just gotten taller than us, too, and as the baby of the family, won’t let us forget it – when Tamir crossed my mind. So I know that there is emotion in here somewhere; begrudgingly, maybe, but it is there.
This resonating numbness makes me wonder if I’m growing less and less human, or into a stronger version of myself. Have I become like the disinterested public or the resilient few? Is my mind institutionalized or free? Thankfully, it’s impossible to know for sure, so I usually cope through thought experiments, bringing my bachelors-level political and social psychology theories to the forefront instead of my own experience.
Speaking in hypotheticals momentarily makes all of this just as surreal as it feels to refer to someone’s beloved with simultaneous distance and familiarity through something as intangible as a hashtag. Again and again.
Our conversation led me to say, “the revolution will not be televised” inspired by Gil Scott Heron. I first heard the song in The Black Power Mixtape, a documentary by a Swedish filmmaker (available on Netflix) covering the civil rights movement years 1967-1975. It remains relevant today as calls for justice grow, so I revisited the song for another thought experiment, in the age of twitter and television, will the revolution be “live”?
“You will not be able to plug in, turn on, and cop out.”
The good will not be televised and while the vigilant watch of social media is supportive, sometimes this constant stream of black deaths and their subsequent disregard through official statements of disinterest seem like a mechanism in itself, rather than a consequence of an unjust system. Author and activist Angela Davis describes the foundational role of violence in revolution and the inescapable presence of state-sanctioned race-based violence in a 1972 interview.
The effects of that theoretical onslaught are real in the black American experience, and manifests in as many ways as there are black Americans. For me, it’s been foggy, depressive periods, aggressive social media, and most recently channeling the anxiety into productivity – creative expression and a commitment to social justice through engaging others.
“The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.”
Here’s a thought experiment:
If a citizen dies in police custody and everyone is there to tweet it, does it make a difference?
We need to go beyond mainstream media narratives and phone screens, especially if we are ready to do better – and people of all races know that we must. This is a statistically reinforced race issue, which makes it a human rights issue.
The revolutionary good that this country needs – and I believe wants – will not be televised. It is a blessing and a curse, as people are able to seek tangible improvements away from speculation that corrupts this message. However, they are largely unseen – community activists, attorneys, nonprofit organizations.
Conversations, then, are essential. People need to hear other people, see other people taking action, talk through this stuff; they need the opportunity to be wrong and be informed again from a face, not an avatar. They need to see that there is good being done, constantly. So, if you care, you’re gonna have to reach out to somebody. You’re going to have to stumble through awkward, meaningful conversations; it’s the only way to then stumble forward to action.
We have to become comfortable speaking for ourselves in an age of retweets, likes, and the multitudes of murmurs of the blogosphere. It starts among friends, then communities, then demanding to be heard at local levels. We have to call people out, call ourselves out, and call out the principles that matter to us.
“There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay.”
On the contrary, there is constantly new footage of unnecessary lethal force. If video evidence is no match for the legendary “infallible, superhuman-yet-chronically-fearful, good guy” police officer, as we saw in the cases of Sandra Bland and Eric Garner, amongst others, then calls for dashboard and body cameras are meaningless. Surveillance has been vehemently opposed by officers, who claim they cannot do their jobs correctly if observed. Public officials are intended to be accountable to the public. To protect and serve citizens.
Yet, in this day and age, legal provisions still allow for the seizure of civilian property on arbitrary grounds, as John Oliver explores on Last Week Tonight: Civil Forfeiture.
(He also covers Ferguson and the history of police militarization, an important caveat.)
We have to demand better. Accountability is not too much to ask, and in a time where deadly force has replaced first response protocol, we would do well to demand de-escalation training. The case law term for Tamir Rice’s murder is “officer-created jeopardy”. That it’s justifiable in hindsight and through loopholes isn’t good enough, and police need to be held to a higher standard in their profession, to enter situations strategically to minimize, rather than create confrontations. Read more on the question of policing standards coming out of this grand jury decision from Jamelle Bouie at Slate.
The reality is that we don’t need thought experiments to get to revolutionary action, with scientists at Harvard categorizing police brutality in the US as an epidemic. We do have to take a revolutionary approach by demanding reform on the issue of police accountability. It’s an issue of human rights, an issue of public health – and in that sense, the bystander effect is our biggest challenge to overcome.
At this point, seeking out real policy reforms to support, speaking out through protests and/or conversations, and simply demanding better are revolutionary. Do it because it’s about what is right. Do it for the sake of a better place. Do it in a way that feels right to you, because it is up to you to do something.
The revolution will not be televised, will not be tweeted. The revolution will be live.