Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why ALL Parents Need to Have "The Talk" with Their Children About Guns and Law Enforcement

No one asks to be shot.
No one asks to die.
No one asks to lose their life at the tender age of 12 for playing with a toy gun.
No one asks to be murdered by a child of 12.
No one asks to be shot in the line of duty.
No one asks to serve and protect in a world where you can’t trust a 12 year old not to pick up a gun and fire.

No one asks for any of these things, and yet they're happening. Every. Single. Day. 

There’s a lot being said about the shooting of young Tamir Rice at a playground, where a bystander called 911 because the boy had an airsoft gun in the park. 

undefinedA “toy” gun with no markings to distinguish it from a real firearm. A gun that looked real enough to cause bystanders concern. Even if the individual that called 911 believed it was “probably fake”, there was enough uncertainty in his mind to call emergency services in the first place. 
The operator failed to relay the individual’s belief that the gun may have been a toy to the officers that responded-and I’m not sure it would have made a difference. In a world of school shootings and movie theatre shootings and children of 12 committing abuse and homicide, officers cannot be too careful.

The officer who first saw Rice reported that he was a black male of approximately 20 years of age. There are those who want, badly, to focus on the first part of that description-that he was a black male. The truth is, had he been a white male, that’s what the cop would have said. The important part of this was that the officers responding to the scene didn’t know they were dealing with a child.

I’ve never been able to see what it was that prompted the officer to shoot. Not because I’m looking for a specific viewpoint, but because the video is bad and my eyes suck. I can’t tell if Rice pointed the gun toward the officer. I can’t tell if he tried to lay it down. What I do know is the police treated a 12 year old with a gun as an armed and dangerous criminal.

While I would like to say the cops clearly overreacted, the truth is, the society we live in has its share of dangerous juvenile offenders. It’s entirely possible the officers on the scene believed Rice had a real weapon and had turned to fire at them, and acted accordingly. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m certainly not saying the twelve year old brought it upon itself, which seems to be the default position of anyone not screaming “murderer” at these cops.

The ending of this story could have been much, much different if the officers had spent just a little more time assessing the scene. However, had Rice’s weapon been a real one, as the police believed at the time, the story could have had another ending.We could have been adding another name to the list of names to the 20,000 officers on the memorial to those who died in the line of duty.

There are a lot of numbers rolling around, but here’s one I haven’t seen shared with the media yet. 
As of December 2nd, 107 officers had died in the line of duty in 2014. This doesn’t take into account officers killed while off duty, and it doesn’t tally injuries received while on duty. If an officer is shot and ends up in intensive care, if a corrections officer is badly beaten by an inmate and is sent to the hospital, those numbers aren’t counted. Bruises, broken ribs, broken jaws. Those numbers aren’t counted.There's a document stating that more than 50,000 assaults on officers occurred during 2014, and even the people who published the report admitted those numbers were woefully under reported. According to the DA in San Bernadino county, there were 23,000 assaults on officers in that region alone.

Here’s another number for you. 70%. That’s the increase in the number of officers killed by firearms during 2014. 70% more officers were shot and killed in the line of duty this year than last year.

Our personal life experiences shape the way we look at situations. As someone with family and friends in law enforcement, I understand only too well the sick clenching in the gut that comes when you hear an officer is attacked. When a prison your friend works at makes the news, and all you can do is hope and pray that they weren’t among the injured.

I understand the caution and yes, the fear that officers and their families exercise and feel every moment of every day, wondering if they’re going to become victims themselves-not because of the color of their skin, but because of the color of their uniform.

I can’t say I understand or can wrap my head around the shooting of Tamir Rice, but I can see how it happened.

I’m a mother. My oldest son is 13, a year older than Rice, and the thought of losing him due to a misunderstanding and bad circumstances breaks my heart. I know, however, that the best thing I can do to keep my kids safe is to strike back at the many, many things that led to Tamir Rice being in the situation he was in the first place.

And so, I will teach my children gun safety. I will teach them that toy guns should look like toy guns, and to leave the ones that do not on the shelf. I will teach them that BB guns and air guns should only be used under the close supervision of an adult, and should be handled with the same respect you would show a real gun.

I will teach them that guns are not toys the way that race cars and baseballs are toys, and there are deadly consequences for treating them that way. I will teach them that if a police officer asks them to do something, they should obey. Immediately. Silently. There will be time for questions and explanations when the situation is calm.

And I will ask the toy companies to help me in this. Because they are not blameless. By manufacturing toy guns that look like real guns, they are helping to put our children in harm’s way.

Because an officer cannot stand in front of a twelve year old holding a gun and assume that the gun, and the child, are harmless. I wish they could, but they can’t. Law enforcement will continue to be cautious, sometimes overly so.

We as parents MUST take the responsibility to ensure that our kids stay safe.

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