By James Clingman
Ever since President Bill Clinton apologized for the Tuskegee syphilis “experiment” in 1997, we have heard calls for apologies from the government and individuals for a myriad of transgressions against Black people. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that apologies are highly overrated and mean very little when it comes to initiating substantive change and reciprocity toward the offended class or individual. We witnessed the latest apology by the mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, to the family of Tamir Rice after the police findings were made public.
The report stated Rice’s death was caused by, “by the failure … to exercise due care to avoid injury.” In other words, the 12-year old boy caused his own death. The mayor apologized not for the killing but for the words used to describe the cause of the killing. Rice was shot for holding a toy gun 1.7 seconds after the cops pulled up to his location in a park. No warning, no command to drop the gun, and no attempt to speak to Rice; they shot first – immediately, and now we are asking the questions.
We will hear the usual excuses and legal rationales, but the bottom line is that the taxpayers of Cleveland will pay dearly for this tragedy. That’s right, the taxpayers, not the police officers, which brings me to my point. Yes, you’re right; here comes the economic side of things.
From 1995 to 2001, in Cincinnati, police killed 15 Black men, some of whom were wielding guns and some who were innocent victims of overzealous quick-on-the-trigger officers. In addition to the killings, many Black people were harassed, profiled, illegally stopped and searched, and unjustifiably injured, physically and psychologically, by police officers.
Those incidents, undergirded by economic sanctions imposed against our city and a class action lawsuit, led to several capitulating concessions, which included cash payouts that amounted to more than $16 million, as I recall. Who paid it? The taxpayers, those of us who protested, helped pay the bill for the injuries and injustices that we fought against.
Looking back on those days makes me see how ridiculous it is for us to follow the same pattern to redress injustices such as the killing of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and others. Most taxpayers give little or no thought to where the millions of dollars come from when monetary penalties are imposed and paid out to victims of police violence or mistreatment of citizens. Maybe if more of us knew the money was coming from our pockets, money that, in many cases, could have been used for street repair, business development, or capital improvements, we would get together and put an end to this madness.
In return for insults, injuries, and injustice we demand apologies and, in some instances, remuneration. We get are empty words replete with condescension, and payouts from our own tax dollars, which have no real effect on the perpetrators of the insults, injuries, and injustices we suffer. The real culprits have nothing to lose; they commit their acts with impunity. They can even say Tamir Rice and John Crawford caused their own deaths by holding a gun in an “open carry” state, a state where other folks carry guns openly and never get shot for doing so.
We watched Rice and Crawford lose their lives in a matter of seconds after the police came on the scene. We saw Eric Garner killed in a matter of minutes for “failing to comply,” while we see others questioning police officers and “refusing” to comply, only to be allowed to either walk away or otherwise have their say as the police back off.
Despite the graphic evidence of disparate treatment, Blacks get weak apologies and insulting rationales as mitigation for our injuries and injustice. If there were a price to pay for police officers who commit these kinds of acts, since most will never be indicted, maybe they would exercise more restraint before they fire their guns. If they were required to have personal malpractice insurance, for instance, not paid by the municipality but by themselves, or if court awards had to be paid from police department budgets, maybe there would be fewer killings.
Injustice can and does lead to violence in return, and it could ultimately be one reason for young people turning to terrorism. While some naively think jobs will stop terrorism, a report, “The Age of the Wolf,” cited an 18-year old boy who stated, “I did not join the Taliban because I was poor; I joined because I was angry.”
There is a lot of anger out there about our broken criminal justice system. I believe economic responses will accelerate the process of repairing it.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com.