On Wednesday, a veteran police officer of nine years fatally shot 13-year-old Tyre King in eastern Columbus, Ohio. The eighth-grader had reportedly fled to the alley with a friend after being approached by police investigating an armed robbery. Like Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old from Cleveland who was killed by police two years ago, King allegedly was holding a BB gun.
The circumstances of the 13-year-old's shooting are under review by the police department, and CBS News reports that the police officer responsible, Brian Mason, has been placed on a weeklong administrative leave not atypical of such incidents.
There is still much to be learned about what happened in that alley, and if the teen's death could have been prevented. Although some local officers have been testing body-worn cameras, USA Today reported that neither Mason nor his fellow officers were wearing one.
But as the nation grapples with the death of yet another Black teen, another question, a familiar one, was raised on social media.
"At what age does society stop perceiving black children as innocent?" Twitter user lex_me_up12 asked her followers. "At what age should I worry about my brothers growing up?"
The New York University student's concerns echoed a sentiment often expressed in the aftermath of police shootings of Black men and boys. What is the point at which a child — Skittles or toy gun in hand — begins registering as a threat?
After 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police officers in July while selling CDs, mom Monica Park Johnson posted on Facebook in the voice of her young biracial son asking when he, too, would be seen as potentially life-threatening.
"I'm so cute now. Everyone comments on my beautiful skin, my adorable curls. But I ask you this-- what about when I'm 25, and my skin gets darker, my curls get tighter... I'm wearing baggy pants, maybe a hoodie or a baseball cap... Will you shoot me if I get an attitude... or while I'm running away... or while I'm handcuffed?"
At A Plus, above all things, we believe in empathy. It is possible to have empathy for a cop who showed up to work on a Wednesday night without any expectation of the tragedy that he and a realistic-looking toy gun would bring about. But it is possible too — and pressingly important — to have empathy for the millions of families who do not know at what age their child will become a target. The millions of families who cannot predict with the 100 percent certainty all parents desire that their child will not become a hashtag.
According to The New York Daily News, city mayor Andrew Ginther's voice broke while discussing 13-year-old Tyre King's death at a Thursday press conference.
Implementing other reforms — like encouraging community policing tactics, training officers in de-escalation strategies, hiring more female officers, and making body cameras an everyday part of the uniform — could also help decrease fatal police shootings.
And until they are, advocates on and off social media will continue asking hard questions on the behalf of their friends, their brothers, and their sons.
Cover image via Tony Webster.
UPDATE: According to The Washington Post, police reports initially spelled King's given name as Tyree. This story has been updated upon their correction.