Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Max Reddick on the Tamir Rice decision
Once, in a moment of my personal frustration, a moment during which I felt crushed, ground down by my own ambitions, and my goals seemed too remote and distant to ever achieve, and I wanted to give up and give in, my grandmother pulled me to the side, and as she was often wont to do, gave me a piece of sage advice and encouragement that I have held close, even to this day.
My grandmother told me, simply, to stay the course because in order to achieve that which I wanted to achieve, to arrive at that place of my self-actualization, I would need to stay focused and persevere. The path of becoming, the route from my starting place to where I desired to be, she advised me, did not run straight and downhill, but sharply and precariously curved precipitously and arduously uphill and even often looped back upon itself, and whoever managed to successfully negotiate it, did so only through sheer commitment, strength of will and patient perseverance.
But, perhaps most importantly, she additionally admonished me to stay alert, to stay on my guard, to always keep my wits about me, and to always and in all things make good decisions, because, she told me, catastrophe and mishap do not operate on a time schedule.
“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour,” she told me, “In the time it takes to bat your in eye—in the very twinkling of an eye—anything and everything can happen that could irreversibly change the course of your life for the worse, or you could even lose your life altogether.”
Such is the predicament of time. That which takes so much time to achieve can all be lost in a split second—in the twinkling of an eye.
But, in real time, just how much time, then, is the twinkling of an eye? Would thirty seconds count as the twinkling of an eye? How about six seconds? Fourteen or fifteen seconds? One hundred twenty seconds? Twenty seconds? Two seconds?
I ask this question because the continued and on-going proliferation of broken Black bodies across the land in the frequent, very brief—merely seconds long—but deadly results of encounters between police and Black folk, even after years and generations of struggle, obfuscates any pretense of Black progress, and reminds us that even after all this time, justice yet eludes us.
And in this instance, in this exchange, this predicament is transformed into paradox—the Big Ben Paradox.
Allow me, please, to explain it thusly. Let’s begin with one of the more recent cases.
Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez approximates that less than thirty seconds after Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke arrived on the scene and six seconds after he emerged from his squad car, he fired sixteen rounds into the body of seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald, killing him, with only about fourteen or fifteen seconds elapsing between the time Van Dyke fired the first shot and the time he fired the last. And for thirteen of those seconds, Laquan lay on the ground.
After watching the six-minute video of the shooting, it seems that he never even saw it coming. It all happened so quickly—in the twinkling of an eye.
Yet, despite having the advantage of the video available just a short time after Laquan’s murder, the testimony of witnesses, and an autopsy, it still took Ms. Alvarez’s office fourteen months, about four hundred days, to finally charge Officer Van Dyke with first degree murder, and, she admits, the timing of her decision and announcement was no coincidence; the announcement of the charges against Officer Van Dyke came only hours before the court-ordered release of the video, and only then because of city officials’ fear that once the contents of the video became public, Black folk would go all Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and burn the city of Chicago to the ground.
But the murder of Laquan McDonald is not an isolated case. We need only go back to August 5, 2014, when someone called police from a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, to report a Black man walking through the store with a gun.
When police arrived, they spotted twenty-two year old John Crawford III walking down an aisle casually carrying an unpackaged BB gun. Witnesses attest to John Crawford only carrying the BB gun, and at no point shouldering it or pointing it at anyone. Nevertheless, one of the police officers responding to the call shot him two times within fifteen seconds of spotting him, later claiming the he, John Crawford III, would not respond to police commands.
Of course everyone remembers the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. How could we forget?
Only about two minutes—one hundred and twenty seconds—passed from the time eighteen-year-old Michael Brown came into contact with Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, until he lay dead in the street after having been shot by Officer Wilson six times. And in what could only be regarded as a remarkable instance of blatant and utter disrespect, the Ferguson, Missouri, police department allowed his dead body to lie in the street in full view of the residents of his grandmother’s neighborhood and his friends and family, to include his parents, for over five hours.
Then, only nine days later on August 19, 2014, and only minutes away from Ferguson in North St. Louis, overshadowed and drowned out by the tumult of riotous Black rage following the murder of Michael Brown, the confrontation between police and twenty-five year old Kajieme Powell resulted in Kajieme being shot twenty times by police about twenty seconds after they arrived on the scene.
And that brings us to yesterday’s announcement that no charges would be filed against the police officer responsible for the murder of Tamir Rice.
On November 22, 2014, two Cleveland, Ohio, police officers were dispatched to a city park after police received calls reporting a Black male randomly pointing a gun at people in the park, and according to accounts and the indisputable testimony of surveillance video of the incident, a mere two seconds after the policemen arrived at the scene, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice’s broken body lay on the ground in a pool of blood, mortally wounded. According to some reports, one of the policemen began firing his weapon even before the patrol car came to a halt when arriving on the scene.
Tamir Rice fought for his life for almost twenty-four long, agonizing hours before finally succumbing.
I will discontinue, now, cataloging the deaths of young Black people at the hands of the police. I feel that I may have taken up far too much of your time, and I do not wish to bore you. However, I could, if I desired, go on and on; the list runs long and deep. But I think that I have given enough instances to establish a definite pattern.
All too frequently in confrontations between young Black women and men and the police, within mere seconds of contact—in the twinkling of an eye, the young Black person falls victim to police actions leavened and sanctioned by America’s centuries old fantastical phantasmic fear of Black bodies, effectively foreclosing on the promise of her or his youth.
And in each and every one of the instances above, as is almost always the case, each and every one of the police involved have yet to receive one minute of time.
This has been the paradox, our predicament of time, time after time after time, year after year after year, generation after generation after generation.
But even as time seemingly works against us, even as we find ourselves fixed in the intricate web of this paradox and predicament, time could also very well work in our favor if in our righteous dismay we do not allow it to discourage or disempower us. If we instead firmly grasp it and pull it close to our chests in a vise-like embrace, and realizing it to be the current reality that need not be, transform it into a vehicle of motivation that energizes and emboldens and convinces us that the time has come to invest the time in taking whatever actions we must take to ensure the end of this pattern within our time so that there be no next time after this last time, all the while remembering that the path of our becoming, the route from our starting place to where we desire to be does not run straight and downhill, but sharply and precariously curves precipitously and arduously uphill and even often loops back upon itself, all the while remembering that to successfully negotiate it requires sheer commitment, strength of will and patient perseverance.
Only time will tell.