Over the weekend, for the second time this year, Ohio law enforcement officers shot and killed a black person carrying an air gun.
In the first case, in Beavercreek, John Crawford III, 22, was shot by police in August while carrying around an air rifle sold at the Walmart store he was in. No officers were indicted. In the second case, in Cleveland on Saturday, police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir E. Rice who was carrying an airsoft replica handgun at a playground.
A 12-year-old… playing with a toy gun… at a playground.
Both killings came in response to a 911 call reporting a person carrying a gun in a public place.
Even though both incidents involved air guns, in Ohio, open carry of an actual firearm is indeed legal. Nevertheless, in both cases, hysterical overreaction ruled the day. Levelheadedness was given short shrift, and because of that, sadly, two young people are now dead.
State Rep. Alicia Reese, D-Cincinnati, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, announced Sunday that she will soon introduce legislation to require all BB guns, air rifles and airsoft guns sold in Ohio to be brightly colored or have prominent florescent strips.
“The shooting of John Crawford III devastated many people in our community and left us looking for answers,” Reece said in a release. “This bill is but one small step in addressing this tragedy and helping to prevent future deadly confrontations with someone who clearly presents little to no immediate threat or danger. With Saturday’s deadly shooting of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, it is becoming crystal clear that we need this law in Ohio.”
It’s a step. But the commonwealth has much larger work yet to be done.
In Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday night, a grand jury failed to return an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, also a black person, six times, including twice in the head.
Prosecutor Bob McCulloch did not take a prosecutorial stance in the case, actually bragging that he would place it entirely in the hands of the grand jury.
Any halfway decent prosecutor who wants an indictment can get one. Ham sandwich analogies aside, for any reporter who’s watched the courts for years this is an undeniable truth. Bob McCulloch’s proud and intentional nonfeasance was an act of cowardice.
After no indictment was returned, many conservative Twitterers sickly erupted in jubilation, as though they had scored some sort of political victory. Justice-minded folk in Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in riot. The unscrupulous erupted in looting and burning.
Like it or hate it, civil disobedience is a time-honored American tradition often sparked by a single case of injustice that unites opposition to a larger systemic injustice. In this case, that injustice is the unpunished wanton murdering of young black men by police.
Civil disobedience is a messy but necessary tool to attempt to bring about needed change when the system itself has been corrupted and repeatedly fails. So far we’ve discussed three cases of failure. Only three, of so many.
John Crawford III. Tamir E. Rice. Michael Brown. Oscar Grant. Steven Rodriguez. Kimani Gray. Kendrec McDade. Stephon Watts. Remarley Graham. Manuel Loggins Jr. Johnnie Warren. Justin Sipp. Michael Lembhard. Ervin Jefferson. Amadou Diallo. Patrick Dorismond. Timothy Stansbury Jr. Sean Bell. Orlando Barlow. Aaron Campbell. Victor Steen. Steven Eugene Washington. Wendell Allen.
The list, sadly, goes on and on and on.
In these cases our justice system is terribly broken, and if the tool of civil disobedience helps to fix it, so be it.
James Madison noted that no nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. America has been in a state of continual warfare at home and abroad for over 70 years. When that is the case, expect not freedom, and thereby, expect not peace.
David DeWitt is a journalist and universal minister based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.