The “Ferguson Story” Is America’s Story

Terrance Heath

Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly assured us that the “Ferguson story” would be over in a week.

That was before a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold in July, setting off a wave of worldwide protests.

The Ferguson “story” isn’t “over,” because it happens every week, all over the country. According to FBI data, white police officers killed two black people per week during a seven-year period ending in 2012. Throw in extralegal killings, like the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, and — according to one study — police, security guards and vigilantes killed one black man every 28 hours in 2012. An analysis by ProPublica showed that young black men are 21 times more likely than whites to be shot dead by police.

Inside of the data, are the stories of black men and women killed or brutalized by the police or vigilantes.

The “Ferguson story” isn’t over, because it’s been happening for decades, and keeps happening over and over. On November 22, Cleveland Ohio police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice.

Rice was at a local playground, walking around, making snowballs, and playing with a pellet gun that looked real enough to prompt a man to call 911. The 911 caller reported that Rice appeared to be a young kid, and the gun was most likely not real.

Those details from the 911 call were left out of the police dispatcher’s radio call to local officers.

Tamir RicePolice officers said that Rice was seated at a table with other people, when they arrived, and that he got up and put the weapon in his waistband. Officers said they got out of the car and ordered Rice three times to put his hands up, but he refused. When Rice reached into his waistband and pulled out the pellet gun, Loehmann fired his weapon. Police called in the shooting: “male down, black male, maybe 20.” Research by the American Psychological Association shows that black boys are more likely than their white peers to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime

The ritual character assassination started immediately. The St. Louis Police Department tweeted “Kids will be kids?,” and linked to a victim-blaming Facebook post. The Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an investigative article reporting domestic violence charges against Rice’s father, to “explain why it might be normal for him to randomly aim what looks like a real gun in a public place.”

Surveillance video eventually showed that Rice was alone at the playground. Loehmann shot Rice within two-seconds of arriving on the scene. There was no time for warnings, or for Rice to even realize what was happening. The sudden use of force is typical of the “shoot first” mentality of American police — particularly with black men.

We have footage that refutes the officer’s story, because the surveillance video was released. Body cameras wouldn’t have necessarily prevented Tamir Rice’s death. The officers who killed Alan Blueford and Darrien Hunt wore body cameras, but their cameras were turned off or not recording. In John Crawford’s death, the district attorney refused to release surveillance video of the shooting. Released after the grand jury decided not to indict, the video showed that officers shot Crawford on sight.

Tamir Rice lay on the ground for four minutes before the police gave him medical help. Police tackled Rice’s older sister, handcuffed her, and put her in the back of their patrol car, when she rushed to his side, and threatened Rices mother with arrest when she tried to reach her son.

I am a 45-year-old black man, and father of two sons. I fear that they, or I, will someday be caught in the next iteration of the “Ferguson story.” The “Ferguson story” is America’s story, and it won’t be over until America is horrified enough to write a new story.

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