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He was our kid.

I keep writing the same essay over and over. That’s because in 2015 African Americans and persons of color have, over and over, been shot dead by police. Over and over, black rage and liberal outrage have dominated the headlines with tearful parents, relatives and friends, Black Lives Matter grassroots protests, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—emerging as the national face of this war against us. What I did not see, over and over, is any sense of our community taking any responsibility whatsoever for any of those terrible tragedies. I find that fact as troubling if not more so than the tragedies themselves, Black America’s outrage lacking the gravity it deserves because we ourselves take absolutely no responsibility and avoid any accountability whatsoever. It’s Rahm’s fault. It’s the cops.

Our accepting responsibility and allowing ourselves to be held accountable for poor choices—like allowing 13-year old Tamir Rice to play with a very realistic-looking Airsoft pistol in a crime-ridden section of Cleveland notorious for crime, violence, and police brutality—takes absolutely nothing away from the heinousness of the criminal act on the part of 26-year-old Officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot Rice down literally before his squad car came to a full stop. Nor does it excuse Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s blatant and obvious tampering with the grand jury as he shamelessly lobbied on behalf of the responding officers.

However, Black America not taking responsibility for putting Tamir out there in the first place makes us seem almost childish in the eyes of the world and dilutes our case for change. We’re in this; we are also to blame. White America sees and knows this but is reluctant to say that out loud because everybody’s afraid of being accused of being racist. Well, I’ll say it: yes, Loehmann killed Tamir Rice—certainly by shooting the child but also by standing around, just as Officer Darren Wilson stood around a dying Michael Brown —doing nothing and watching the boy bleed out. That’s the part I really don’t understand; why Loehmann or his partner didn’t rush to Tamir’s aid the moment the boy hit the snow, why Wilson didn’t administer CPR to Mike Brown but just paced about in the street watching the boy die. To me, the refusal of a sworn officer to administer aid are criminal acts compounded on top of the officers’ original criminal acts of having shot these kids in the first place.

But we are also to blame. Whoever gave Tamir that Airsoft pistol, or whomever left it lying around where he could find it, is also to blame. Michael Brown was no boy scout; he was a bully who bullied people, a thief who stole from people, and a brute with no respect for authority who attacked a police officer. We’re all to blame for that. It’s easy to point and accuse folks of bad parenting, but, in this world, we all are Mike Brown’s parents, are Tamir Rice’s parents.

Why didn’t some passerby take the Airsoft gun from Tamir? Nobody wants to get involved. Why didn’t Officer Wilson know who Mike Brown was—I mean, that was that officer’s beat, right? It’s an officer’s *responsibility* to know who lives and works and moves on his beat. If you see a black kid waving around a realistic toy gun, it’s your *responsibility* to get involved. I don’t care if the boy’s folks scream at you—let them scream. Their boy came home alive.

This is what I don’t get. Growing up, there was absolutely no way I could be wandering around a public park waving a realistic-looking toy gun. Every mom on my block was my mom, every grandma was my grandma. Heck, one of the hood rats hanging out in the park would have snatched it from me and berated me for being reckless and stupid. What happened? Why don’t we watch out for one another anymore? And, when tragedy strikes, why do we always, always, always blame everybody else?

None of us—family, friends, media, cops, white or black—want to take responsibility anymore. For anything. The emergent face of this phenomena is none other than our great moralist Dr. William H. Cosby. 2015 ended on a tragic note for Black America with Cosby indicted on charges of sexual assault. While I consider it highly unlikely America’s fallen icon will be convicted by the political showcase trial (built on flimsy evidence as part of the D.A.’s reelection campaign), the public release of Cosby’s depositions admitting to the behavior dispels the cloud of guilt swirling around the 78-year old and seals his life’s work with an official condemnation.

An American Tragedy: This mug shot was what they were after, and, rather than accept responsibility
(and, apparently, having learned nothing from Michael Jackson's troubles), Cosby gave it to them. Even if he never spends a single day in prison, their work is done: destroy America's living black icon.

“If your block is messy, clean it up,”

Cosby once said. “Doesn’t matter if you own it, you live there. Take responsibility.” This is something the comedian certainly could have effortlessly done himself: take responsibility for the horrifying and still-emerging crimes he himself has committed. Most of those cases are now beyond the reach of criminal justice, but Cos could have stepped up, taken responsibility, compensated his victims, and left the public stage with at least some small shred of dignity. That dignity is now long gone; I don’t actually even know what Cos is protecting, why he’s dug in and flailing; fighting so futilely. Our great moral leader’s failure to take even the smallest shred of responsibility for his own failures now undermines everything he’s attempted to teach the Black community or endow us with. It’s all tainted now, because this man is lodged in some bizarre battle to save his dignity; a battle he’s already lost.

As such, Cosby is now the new model for the hollowing of Black America. In stark contrast to James Brown’s iconic song Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud), I am, these days, frequently embarrassed to be thought of as someone who defends the indefensible; as a finger-pointer marching around and screaming histrionically and irrationally while not accepting even one bit of responsibility for the wave of tragedies besetting our community. It embarrasses me to have white friends tip-toe around these subjects because I presumed to be shallow and irrational and, yes, racist. Assuming all black people think alike is racism in and of itself.

As such, I won’t be marching. I won’t be screaming, I won’t be blaming anybody until we all—black and white, parents and neighbors, young and old, Democrat and Republican—stop this childish and insidious practice of blaming the Other Guy while taking absolutely no responsibility of our own.

Black Lives, Black Accountability

Tamir Rice is dead because a cop shot him, because the same cop then just stood around and watched him bleed out. But Tamir is dead also because somebody allowed him to play with a realistic toy gun, unsupervised, in a public park in a bad neighborhood patrolled by bad cops. Tamir is dead because any one of dozens of passersby didn’t just take the thing from him or call his parents. Now everyone wants to blame the police dispatcher who, yes, badly dropped the ball when passing information onto the officers. And, yes, I believe those officers acted criminally and deserve prosecution.

But lets’ cut the nonsense: Tamir Rice is dead, and we all are to blame. He was our kid. He was our family. I am deeply ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted by Black America using the same disingenuous political dodges and lies that are conservative Republicans’ (and just as often liberal Democrats’) stock and trade. Our protest would have much more meaning if we weren’t avoiding our own responsibility in these many events: in virtually every case of alleged or proven police abuse the victim was behaving culpably if not criminally. None of which gives police or anyone else the right to shoot blacks down at-will, but whitewashing these tragedies to suit our political purposes undermines our own cause.

I agree: Black Lives do Matter. So does Black Responsibility and Black Accountability. Which is why we all, as a people, should step up and work on our own failings as parents, as friends, as a community. Until we do, our outrage is just the hollow ringing of a bell. Integrity is an indispensable component of social justice.

Christopher J. Priest
2 May 2015

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