A dress divided the Internet when we couldn’t agree on its color.
Is it white and gold or is it blue and black? I saw the latter, and after millions of tweets about #thedress last week, we eventually found out it really is blue and black. There’s a scientific explanation as to why about half the people saw the photo differently: It’s all about the way light enters the eye and how our brains receive it.
For some, this was an all-out war. They had to be right, and it was inconceivable that the dress was any other color than what their brains saw. For others, once they knew the science behind the confusion and saw the dress in a different light, all was well in their world. It’s just a dress, right?
But there’s another debate about perception going on. This one is blue and black. And it’s not as easy to explain why we can’t watch a video and agree on whether police killing unarmed people of color is wrong or not.
Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was carrying a toy gun when Timothy Loehmann, a Cleveland cop, shot him within two seconds of arriving on the scene last fall. When police drove toward him, Tamir was alone, talking on his cellphone. Two seconds. There’s video. You can see the officer jump out of the car and shoot him immediately.
But there was video of Eric Garner being choked to death by the NYPD, and most of us agreed what we saw was cruel, excessive and unnecessary. In New York, a grand jury saw it and decided not to indict that officer.
On Friday, the city of Cleveland blamed Tamir for his own death, for “failure … to exercise due care to avoid injury.” (Cleveland’s mayor apologized to the family on Monday for the “very insensitive” wording, but the decision still stands.)
Since when do kids that age understand due care, logic and how to reasonably react when police rush them? Is it really Tamir’s fault that the officer had a long history of incompetence? Should we blame Tamir instead of the dispatcher for never telling responding officers that the person who called 911 said the gun was probably fake? And I guess it was Tamir’s responsibility to tell cops he was 12 and not a threat, instead of the scary 20-year-old he was estimated to be in the two whole seconds they gave him.
Some people see these tragic injustices and look to shame the victim. They cannot understand why so many of us are outraged, why we continue to see a broken system and a lifetime of prejudice. When Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, a lot of outsiders wondered how one town could boil over with so much emotion.
The Justice Department will soon release a report detailing Ferguson’s history of racial profiling that led to animosity, pain and fear between the black community and police. Hopefully it will lead to change and a new start. It’s hard to tell. Back in December, the Justice Department found that Cleveland police excessively use guns, Tasers, pepper spray and their fists. And that city is still content to blame a 12-year-old.
Now we have Los Angeles, where officers fatally shot a homeless man on Sunday after a fight. Again, there’s video. The Los Angeles Times says you can see the man reach toward the officer’s waistband, where a gun was holstered. You can see the cop pull away. The man is on the ground while about four officers beat and subdue him.
Did he actually get a hold of the gun? It’s hard to tell from the tape. It’s clear that the homeless man, a robbery suspect, was fighting with the officers. And three cops opened fire on him.
L.A. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff told the Times, “Of course I would encourage people not to rush to judgment. It’s not fair to anybody. It’s not fair to the family of the victim or the victim or the officers.”
I get that. Investigations must happen. Not every arrest and shooting is unjust. And despite headlines, not all cops are bad cops and not every person of color is a big, bad suspect.
But there is no science about cones and rods and retinas to help us explain how we see color in these situations. This nation has an ongoing history of systemic racism and abuse of power. Until we take the time to work through these issues and build a bridge between black lives and blue shields, we’ll never agree on how we see things.
And if we don’t start to see these injustices and stand up to them together, we should be prepared to see red as we get blood in our eyes, watching the killing of unarmed people on repeat.