Why ‘Calls for Calm’ in Tamir Rice Case Strike Black Activists as Condescending

Harry Bruinius, Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 2015

After a grand jury on Monday declined to indict the Cleveland police officers who gunned down 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year, Ohio authorities immediately urged those affected by the tragedy to remain calm.

Maintaining order is generally considered something that communities should strive for. But for many black residents in Cleveland as well as observers around the country, Monday’s statements calling for calm felt like yet another condescending dismissal of their experiences with the US criminal justice system–and another example of how the system just doesn’t seem to work for them.

And while debates continue about the integrity of the grand jury system and the ways in which police tend to use force more quickly in black communities, many black Americans perceive a greater concern for civil calm and the protection of property than for the lives of those who were killed.

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Although Governor Kasich, also a presidential candidate, began his statement with a reference to heartbreak, the rest of it didn’t work for some.

“We all lose . . . if we give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us,” the statement read. “We have made progress to improve the way communities and police work together in our state, and we’re beginning to see a path to positive change so everyone shares in the safety and success they deserve. When we are strong enough together to turn frustration into process we take another step up the higher path.”

Many observers saw this as a slight toward what should be a righteous anger at yet another lost black life.

“It comes quite close to belittling the emotions and political concerns those in particular peril of deadly police contact might feel in the wake of the prosecutor’s decision,” wrote Janell Ross at The Washington Post, referring to the statement. “[And it] demands yet more faith in an existing system, the existing leadership and its commitment to ‘share’ safety and success.”

The statements also contained allusions to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which might have been intended as a nod to a revered black leader.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, who is white, invoked the words of Dr. King when he stated, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline” and “not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

But many saw this as condescending and as a dismissal of the rage that they feel as black men continue to lose their lives.

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