Sgt. Joseph Chavalia; a white police officer in Lima, Ohio was recently acquitted in a drug-related shooting death of Tarika Wilson; an unarmed black women as she held her one-year-old son. The child was also wounded in the attack – later requiring one of his fingers to be amputated. Though some accounts of the story were pretty etchy (the officer claimed he could not see if the victim was armed), the prosecution was quick to jump on Chavalia’s wreckless shooting. However, the all white jury found Chavalia not guilty on charges of negligent homicide and assault (charges which were a joke in and of themselves); even in the face of a dead woman who posed no threat and an injured child who will permanently be affected. No even so much as a slap on the wrist. Gee, imagine that.
Jesse Jackson and other local activists have rallied to speak out against this injustice. I honestly can’t say I blame them.
After reading this article, I’m left with a certain degree of sadness and frustration. My heart especially hurts for Tarika, her six children (that part of this story, I’m not feelin’ at all. But that’s another issue altogether), and her family. This was another senseless killing that could have been avoided. Likewise, my frustration continues to mount for police departments and how they keep missing opportunities to conduct themselves lawfully without destroying black people. But I’m not a police officer and I’m certainly not in a position to say how people should act during heated moments. So I can’t speak much to the officer’s state of mind (besides, I read that he only let off three rounds. This wasn’t anywhere near as excessive as the likes of Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo). There is also the question of the extent that race played in this story. An all-white jury acquitting a white officer who killed a black person. That has – and will continue to raise its own set of speculations. But most of all, my anger is directed at the person who started this whole thing: the bonehead involved in the drug activity in the first place; Ms. Wilson’s boyfriend Anthony Terry. Her blood is on his hands just as much as it is on Chavalia’s and the jury who let him get away scot free. I’m curious to see if activists and local leaders will mention that. Not likely, though.
Please don’t take the wrong message from this (some readers typically do that): I am not implying that this wasn’t a horrible tragedy; accentuated by yet another shameful display of injustice. There needs to be a certain level of equality enforced for whites and people of color that currently just is not there. Until that day comes, I completely understand the lack of trust people of color have with “the system”. I mean, even I tend to nervously grip my steering wheel when police officers drive by; even when I haven’t done anything wrong.
Still, another part of me continues to hold us responsible for the actions that land us in these circumstances in the first place. There are particular instances where police operate purely based on prejudice. I get that. But how many incidents of violence and aggression are directly in response to us (or people looking like us) engaged in illegal activity? Would Tarika Wilson be alive today if her idiot boyfriend wasn’t selling drugs from their home? Probably. That being said, my heart hurts for the Wilsons, but I’m not particularly empathetic for her choice in boyfriends. And I’m certainly not sympathetic to Terry; whose actions got his girlfriend killed, his child (I think it’s his child, anyway) injured and his own life ruined. I’m not saying that her poor choices should have been an automatic (or should I say, semi-automatic) death sentence. Let me repeat that – lest people miss that point and try to crucify a brotha: Tarika Wilson DID NOT DESERVE TO DIE FOR HER CHOICES. But — as my grandmother always said — you lie down with dogs, you might get fleas. Not quite same context here, but you get the point.
I don’t deny the numerous studies showing clear instances of differential arrest and sentencing patterns according to race. The solution? I dunno: being more responsible, perhaps? There is a pretty high price these days for people of color engaging in illegal activity; far higher than our white counterparts. In the face of those realities, there should be a greater awareness of the consequences of our actions.
As we mourn (and possibly mount rage) for the unfortunate death of another sister, maybe we can also learn a little something from it.