A year ago, at a meeting of the Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods chapter of the NAACP on media coverage of racial justice issues, some members of the audience — people of color as well as a number of whites — shared with me that more whites, especially those from suburban communities, need to speak out when children die in police situations in urban or rural settings, regardless of skin color.
We had been discussing the story of 12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland, who was fatally shot by police in 2014 while holding a toy gun, and that of other black boys whose lives had been cut short in police encounters. Because, let’s face it, these boys could have been the audience members’ sons or nephews.
Fifteen-year-old Damon Grimes of Detroit was recently added to that growing list of young black victims of police encounters.
Grimes died from injuries suffered when the ATV he was driving crashed into a pickup after the youngster had been hit by a Taser allegedly fired by a state police trooper when he refused orders to stop.
The incident on Aug. 26 that began when Grimes allegedly was driving the ATV illegally on Detroit’s east side has sparked protests in the city. No charges have been filed in the incident, which is under separate investigations by state and Detroit police.
The trooper, meanwhile, identified as Mark Bessner, had been accused earlier of excessive force in two separate cases, both of which were dismissed.
Attorney Geoffrey Fieger has filed a $50 million lawsuit in federal court against the officer. And the Michigan State Police announced a change in its patrol policy in the city that prohibits troopers from engaging in vehicle pursuits for traffic violations or misdemeanor offenses.
Grimes’ death forces the issue of race and the criminal justice system back into the spotlight. Because some are of the opinion that black boys don’t always get the benefit of the doubt when they encounter law enforcement.
That leads to the following:
Would Grimes have been alive today if he was white?
Was the use of the Taser justified?
Could the officer in question have exercised greater restraint?
In the black community Grimes’ death will be viewed by some as another sad reminder of how black boys are robbed of their childhood. It will be read as a painful chapter in the dominant narrative that black men are dangerous and dispensable, and that their humanity is hardly affirmed when in difficult police situations.
Regardless of the perception that society holds about black boys (and men) which racial criminal justice experts have documented and written about, all children deserve a chance to grow and learn from their mistakes and redeem themselves. That is part of childhood.
Black boys should not be the exception to this country’s universal conception that all are born free, equal in dignity and rights.
I have met people of all races and fortunes who believe that issues of human sanctity should be of the utmost importance. They further believe that when it comes to children, what they look like, where they live or what their names are should not matter. We should stand for the dignity of all children.
That is why we should all be upset about the death of Damon Grimes, whether you live in Detroit, Troy, Royal Oak, Bloomfield Hills or Birmingham. Just like that audience at the NAACP meeting in Grosse Pointe demonstrated, we all have to show a commitment to guaranteeing that every child is given the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.