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The Unspoken Problem With the Tamir Rice Killing


In all the justified anger that another black was murdered by a cop–and a black CHILD at that–one element in this particular situation seems to have been ignored by everybody.  Last night, as I watched Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, I saw that it was no more a factor in her discussion than the account by Black Agenda Report, which said of the shooting, “This case has received national and international attention because it exposes the depraved nature of police brutality in occupied African-American communities.”

This is absolutely right, of course.  The war by police on Black Americans is a continuation of the war on former black slaves in the post bellum South, when unfortunate young black men, Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” were strung up with utter impunity by whites in hoods and sheets.  None of us who saw it can ever forget the face of Emmett Till in his coffin.

But, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” as the French say, and the UNADDRESSED problem now is the fact that Tamir Rice had a TOY gun in his hand.

Guns are not toys.  They are deadly weapons designed for a sole purpose:  to hurt and to kill.   Real guns require some level of training to be used properly, and many, if not most, Americans think they should be kept out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals, of the latter, a problem akin to the proverbial “belling the cat.”

Giving a child a TOY gun is little different from putting him in front of a video game that enables him to play at killing people for hours on end, with no caution that this fantasy should not be carried over into real life.  Perhaps the parents who undoubtedly pay for the toy weapon, or the video games, admonish him (or her) about that, but I wonder if it is very many:  “Son, do you realize that with a real gun, you could really hurt your friend, or that somebody might actually die for a gunshot wound?” Or, to make the idea real, they take him on a “field trip” to a morgue and actually show him a gunshot victim:  “Son, in real life, if you shot somebody, this is what it would look like.” (I say, “Son,” because guns are often a symbol of masculinity, and girls are less likely to be involved in owning either a toy or the real thing.)  Of course, growing up in the inner city, a child may, in fact, have seen gun violence first hand, but it is a fair question whether or not anybody around him or her took the time even to deal with his feelings about it, let alone use it as an object lesson about the dangers of guns.

In any case, I am no more confident that white parents say these things than black parents.  But, minorities and whites are all members of this society, and as somebody once said, “culture” is what gets passed on to your children.  If that is the case, then surely the act of putting a toy gun into the hands of a child is an introduction to the American Culture of Random Violence.

Playing with guns, and playing video games about shooting people, instills a sense of unreality into these weapons that may be part of the problem of the explosion of “gun violence” in America.  I have always thought that the idea of simply regulating the real thing was far too simplistic an approach to the complex social dysfunction that “gun violence” really represents.

Individuals in rural areas like Louisiana hunt in order to eat, and those who live in the inner city justifiably feel they need to have guns in self defense to protect themselves from the depredations of gangs and drug dealers. Okay.  Let adults have real weapons and ammunition, which they must keep out of the hands of children, and let them be trained to use those weapons properly.  Having a gun may only “up the ante,” though, and exacerbate the problem, making the innocent holder of the weapon a threat and a moving target for criminal gun-owners or anyone else.

It doesn’t even have to be a real gun for that to happen.  Possession of anything that looks like a gun can easily enable a cop to “shoot first and ask questions later,” as this tragedy makes all too clear.

By the way, to give a child a gun–toy or otherwise–on the day that we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace seems an oxymoron that only gives oxygen to morons.

Either that, or it simply is basic training for participation by the poor of all races in the Wars for Empire led by the war-mongers who run this country, and an important part of the preparation for killing Third World peoples with impunity.

Romi Elnagar is a California-born convert (revert) to Islam, and a retired schoolteacher-librarian in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She worked in anti-war campaigns in the late sixties, and for the United Farmworkers Union. Her email address is

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