The Washington Post‘s political vertical published an article Tuesday saying government officials who called for calm in the wake of the decision not to indict two police officers in the shooting of Tamir Rice were engaging in offensive stereotypes.
The piece by the Post‘s Janell Ross is titled “‘Please-don’t-riot’ statements are the exact wrong response to the Tamir Rice news.” Ross cites three separate statements calling for peace and calm after the non-indictment and says these officials “seemed far more concerned with the protection of property and dissuading what several public officials all but implied is an inherent propensity for black Americans to riot.”
Notice the language here. The officials “all but implied.” In other words, they didn’t say black Americans had a tendency to riot and they didn’t even really imply they did. At worst, they implied that some (not specifically black) people might “give in to anger and frustration.”
Those were the words of Gov. Kasich. Why might the Governor think anger and frustration might be the result of this decision? Because we’ve seen this play out before under similar circumstances. When Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the justified shooting of Mike Brown, a dozen businesses and several cars were burned. Shots were fired in the air and numerous businesses were looted. This behavior was arguably spurred by Brown’s stepfather, who was caught on tape urging people to “Burn this bitch down!”
There was a similar turn to violence in 2013 when George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Though protests took place in several major cities and most remained peaceful, a march in Los Angeles turned violent with around 150 young people breaking windows and attacking people at random, including a cameraman for a local CBS affiliate.
There was a similar scene in December 2014 after the decision not to indict the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in New York. Protesters in Berkeley, California smashed windows and threw bricks and bottles at police, two of whom were injured.
Again, this doesn’t mean that every protest was violent. In fact, many were not, but in each case where a decision was announced, some groups did “give in to anger and frustration.” Obviously, that’s why officials felt the need to plead for calm after the Tamir Rice non-indictment was announced.
Toward the end of her piece, Ross even admits that “Ohio public officials have reason to privately discuss or prepare to maintain safety and order on city streets at all times.” She describes this as their “duty.” If preparation for possible unrest is a public duty, what is wrong with a call for peace to aid and hopefully prevent such an outcome?
Ross struggles to answer that question. She writes, “it is the return of elected officials to a stereotype — a stereotype that, at first, is used to justify aggressive, sometimes-deadly policing, and then secondly to all but advise those most deeply affected to resist their allegedly inherent tendency toward political violence — that produces some level of outrage.”
That might make sense if there had never been a riot in response to an announcement of non-indictment or even if it had been years since one took place. But in fact, we’ve seen these situations turn violent several times in the last two years (and I’ve omitted riots in Baltimore and Oakland connected to a similar case). That’s a precedent that public officials would be fools to ignore. And given that public safety is their “duty,” it is also incumbent upon them to call for peace as part of their planning and preparation.
Finally, it’s worth noting that while the Washington Post reprimanded Ohio officials, the Cleveland Plain Dealer–the paper closest to where the Tamir Rice shooting took place–published an editorial Monday titled, “Tamir Rice protests must be peaceful.” The people whose city is at stake should things turn ugly care more about heading off violence than potentially offending people’s sensibilities.