The Price of Black Lives, and Why It Matters


Washington Post reported yesterday that the City of Cleveland has agreed to pay $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by city police in November of 2014. His estate will receive $5.5 million, and his mother and sister will receive $250,000 each. No one on the defense side will admit any wrongdoing. The attorney for the family says that while the settlement is “historic in financial terms, no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a life.”

Although the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a review to see whether either officer involved violated any civil rights laws, it is rare that any criminal charges come from these proceedings.

This settlement is the most recent of many when it comes to high-profile police-involved shootings that have sparked national debates across the country. New York City agreed to settle with the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after being placed in a police choke hold in July of 2014. The $5.9 million settlement was reached 4 days before the anniversary of his death; if a settlement was not reached by then, the family would have filed a lawsuit.

Chicago reached a $5 million settlement without filing a lawsuit with the mother of LaQuan McDonald, a 17-year old shot 16 times by police in October 2014. The City denied liability.

In Baltimore, officials reached a $6.4 million wrongful death settlement (as criminal charges are pending for all officers involved) with the family of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American that was fatally injured in police custody in April of 2015. The city did not admit liability.

In the state of South Carolina, a $6.5 million settlement was reached with the family of Walter Scott, who was captured on video being shot by a police officer in the back in North Charleston in April of 2015. The officer, Michael T. Slager, was arrested and has been in jail since the incident.

Cities are paying millions to families for police violence. The Wall Street Journal reported that the ten cities with the largest police departments paid $248.7 million in 2014 in settlement and court judgments in police-misconduct cases. This is 48% higher than numbers in 2010. The costliest claims are, you guessed it, civil rights suits. Note that these payout do not so much effect the city or even the police department as much as the taxpayers.

This matters because black people, and more specifically young black boys and men, are persons. Freddie Gray was a woman’s son. LaQuan McDonald was a young man who grew up in homes fractured by drugs and poverty after being taken from his mother at an early age. Tamir Rice was twelve and had his entire life ahead of him.

If we as a community could gather together and work to rebuild our communities, restructure our police system, and have a sense of equity in our economic and justice system, these millions of dollars could be used for something worthwhile.

We can rebuild our schools.

We can fund programs for troubled youth to keep them out of the streets.

We can support our single mother and fathers.

We can reduce crime in our neighborhoods.

We cannot afford to lose our men to violence of any kind when they can offer value to the world. This string of police violence should be a call to black communities to be aware of the road we must take in order to save young people. We should not remain stagnant, but instead try our best to ensure that no parent has to bury their child. We cannot cannot let these lives go without working to make a difference.

“In a situation like this, there’s no such thing as closure or justice,” the lawyers, Jonathan S. Abady and Earl S. Ward, said in a statement. “Nothing will bring Tamir back. His unnecessary and premature death leaves a gaping hole for those who knew and loved him that can never be filled.” – New York Times


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