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on the 12th street shooting: when a thing is more than the thing

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Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

12th street shooting little rock

on the 12th street shooting: when a thing is more than the thing

*photo by brian chilson for the arkansas times

yesterday morning, a couple miles from our neighborhood, a police officer shot and killed a 26-year old man named deon williams after he led police on a foot chase and—allegedly—picked up a gun that had fallen from his waistband. over the course of the following several hours after the shooting, a crowd of predominantly black residents from the adjoining neighborhood gathered near the scene to protest and express outrage over another police shooting. at the peak of the protests, officers lined 12th street, shutting down through traffic. after the police’s eventual departure, the crowd dissipated without incident.

following the shooting, there was little information available and we eventually learned that much of the sparse detail we had was incorrect. reports ranged from the victim being an 11-year old child (he wasn’t) to the victim being in a stolen vehicle (he wasn’t). most of that information cycled through social media from those who sat far removed from the neighborhood and the actual shooting. as little information as we had from behind our computer screens, though, we likely had more than those who gathered on 12th street, protesting the police’s actions. much of the social media and news outlet comment section fodder that immediately followed highlighted this point—that the people gathered were misguided and “stupid”, as multiple people i saw stated, because they didn’t know the facts. (more on this later…)

but here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.

it doesn’t matter what the folks gathered knew about the specific series of events related to the shooting. it doesn’t matter if they thought it was an 11-year old or if it was a 26-year old. it doesn’t matter if they knew he had a gun or if he didn’t.

what mattered is a young man from their neighborhood laid dying in the middle of the street because of bullets from a little rock police officer’s gun.

two days after george zimmerman walked free, betraying the trust of the black community.

and two weeks after a mistrial for little rock police officer josh hastings who, 11 months ago, shot and killed bobby moore, a 15-year old black kid. (many protesters yesterday on 12th street held signs calling for justice for bobby moore.)

see, sometimes a thing is more than the thing.

they become symbols. and they transcend the thing itself. they’re sparks that ignite a fire. they’re the proverbial straw to the camel’s back.

so even as white folks on social media and comment sections proclaimed, from a safe distance, that the black folks in the hood needed to get their facts straight and, subsequently, get over it, the frustrations of those gathered in protest were legitimate. and they deserved to be heard and respected. as christena cleveland put it in a great post following the george zimmerman verdict, when oppressed folks speak up, privileged folks should be all ears. that certainly didn’t happen in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy.

yesterday, a young man died in the streets, just a couple miles away from my home. a husband and father just a few years younger than me. the loss of his life is a tragedy—regardless of the circumstances.

and in tragedies like these, may we find the decency and the humility to lay down our will to be heard and to make moral proclamations rooted in privilege, and offer our most sincere sorrow and regret and solidarity with those who are oppressed and disregarded by society.

because sometimes it’s just a thing. but other times, that thing is, in fact, far more than the thing.