police

To Tamir

I'm sorry you're dead, Tamir. I'm sorry that playing with a pellet gun got you shot by a policeman. I used to play with pellet guns, too. My friend had them. We'd take them out into the yard at his house. There was one that looked fake, and one that looked like a real pistol. We shot at birds on power lines, but never hit one. I think I'd have been sad if I did. We shot at trees and signs, solid things that made the round silver pellets ping and pew. We didn't think about what it looked like, one skinny kid and one chubby kid toting gun-like guns near some houses, pointing them and shooting them. We weren't afraid.

I'm sorry you should have been afraid. Little boys have played with toy guns as long as I can remember. That's what you were, you know: a little boy. Twelve feels grown-up to a twelve-year-old, but I can say you're a little boy because I'm an adult. I was a little boy once, so I remember. Before you died, you weren't afraid to play in a park, wander about looking at whatever little boys look at on the ground, point your pellet gun at imaginary targets, sit at a picnic table and pass the time.

I wish you had been afraid, even though that's not right. It's wrong to wish one group of people have more fear and take extra care just for their safety, even if it's just because you want them safe. It's more that I wish you'd lived in a world where little black boys didn't have to be afraid of that kind of thing. I wish that I knew what it was like to be you. I was a little white boy in rural Alabama, so it was different. You'd have realized that if you'd grown up. Maybe you knew it already.

I watched the video. I saw you gather up the slushy snow, pad it together and send it into the air. You watched it sink to the earth and splat lazily on the sidewalk. I watched you step on the flattened pile, and I imagined the muffled crunch of ice and powder beneath your boots. I did that kind of thing, too, at your age. Then I watched a car roll up and a man jump out and gun you down, like in a gangster movie. But this was a police car rolling up, and a police man jumping out, and it was very real. You died, and I grieve about that. Lots of people do.

I wish you had more afternoons to point your pellet gun at trees and signs and power lines, more days to sit and be bored at a table, more days to look at worms in a sidewalk puddle. But you're dead, and now I wish for justice for you. I wish that all would see you as a boy, a child of God, an unjust death in an unjust world. And I wish they'd do something about it. But mostly, I wish you were still alive, Tamir. I wish wishing were enough.

Ferguson

Ok, I lied. I'm a liar. I said we were taking the week off, but it's hard when news hits that riles you and enrages you and stifles you all at the same time.

A kid got shot by a cop. The kid didn't have a gun. The cop had a gun. Maybe the kid was gonna run away or maybe he tried to fight the cop. Don't get hung up on those opposing ideas, please, or we'll never get anywhere. The thing is, he got shot and he's dead. MLK Jr. had a lovely saying about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. Maybe it does, but Mike Brown didn't benefit. He's dead. The stories around what happened are muddy because someone's lying, maybe lots of people, but that's what happens when the stakes are high. People lie.

Fortunately, we have a trial system to sort out the lies and try to figure out the most likely truth so that we might pronounce innocence or guilt. Unfortunately, the grand jury and the prosecutor more or less robbed the Brown family and the public of that process. Whether you believe that Darren Wilson acted wrongly, the hazy nature of the events should have convinced everybody to take this matter to trial. It's what we have trials for. To look at all the evidence and make a decision. This is not what grand juries are for.

Grand juries look at the broad information, including cut and dry pieces of damning evidence, and say whether there's enough murkiness to warrant a trial. If Wilson had had a body camera on, or if the cruiser camera had caught anything, or if a bystander had be taking a video on their phone and taped the whole exchange, the grand jury would be within its authority to say "This happened this way, and nothing illegal happened." Of course, that evidence didn't exist in this case. Lots of people failed to do their jobs, so we're left with more questions than we should ever have when a person sworn to serve and protect kills another person.

At the bottom of all this, I'm tired. I'm worn out from my own cynicism, and equally worn out from clinging to bits of hope that things might turn out differently this time. I'm from Alabama, the land of this kind of injustice. I grew up seeing those images of cops beyond the law, especially in racially charged situations. As a teenager, I saw some of the more covert versions with my own eyes. It's tough to be this cynical about the moral universe. I wish I could believe as strongly as Dr. King did. I can't imagine what the Brown family must believe. I wish I could believe those religious leaders I respect who cry prophetically that "love and justice always win." Except they didn't for this kid. He's dead. They don't win for a lot of people.

I don't know exactly what happened the day Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. You don't either. That's what trials are for in this country, but we won't get one of those. Instead we'll have the rage of those who feel like their lives are worth less, the naive belief of some who feel law enforcement can do no wrong, the insidious joy of those who cannot empathize, the weary voices who still try to proclaim the good news, the sighing of we who don't know how it could get better, and the racial tension you could cut with a knife. But probably a bullet.