The Washington Post ran a story about an unarmed nineteen year old White male by the name of Zachary Hammond, who was shot and killed by police officer Mark Tiller in Seneca, South Carolina on July 26th, 2015. Initial reports indicate officer Tiller is claiming he shot and killed Zachary Hammond in self-defense because his life was at risk with Mr. Hammond reportedly trying to run him over after questioning related to ten grams of marijuana in the car. There continues to be questions surrounding the death of this young man and the Los Angeles Timesreported a few days ago, the FBI and the Department of Justice will conduct their own investigations.
As the clouds of truth and excessive force by police hover over this case, what is indisputable at this point is we have yet another family grieving the loss of a child. Another young life cut short and without a voice in another encounter with law enforcement. Amid the private mourning, the lawyer for the family, Eric Bland made some public and rather controversial statements regarding news coverage. “It’s sad, but I think the reason is, unfortunately, the media and our government officials have treated the death of an unarmed white teenager differently than they would have if this were a death of an unarmed black teen.” He continued, “The hypocrisy that has been shown toward this is really disconcerting.”
When I saw the lawyer’s comments, my first thoughts were, “No, why did he go there? What is he hoping to accomplish by making these statements? Who is he speaking to?”
As I reflected on each of my questions, I looked for various answers. From one angle, it sounded like a lawyer seeing an opportunity to use the media to positively impact his case on an individual level and was given a national forum to do so. A clear intent to influence public opinion and officials into action. The lawyer was obviously aware of the slew of incidents regarding police brutality toward Black citizens, many of which, resulted in death that have gone viral and national. However, on its surface, one could say and believe that his racialized rebuttal was nakedly calculating and disingenuous for trying to equivocate the death of Zachary Hammond into the larger narrative of disproportionate incidents of Black lives lost at the hands of police. On its surface, one could also assume that the lawyer felt as though he was speaking for a lot of White Americans in expressing an annoyance with the amount of news coverage that Black deaths have received in the past two years. You know, an extension of the All Lives Matter movement.
Whatever the lawyer’s intentions, a golden opportunity was lost. I tried to imagine what the national response and conversation would have been if the lawyer Mr. Bland came out and said: “Dear fellow Americans, another questionable death has occurred at the hands of police. As this investigation continues, we hope through this tragedy, that ongoing efforts to reform police practices, elevated forms of accountability and review of training continues with urgency and consistency. The family of Zachary Hammond continues to grieve and asks for your prayers. This unfortunate incident has resulted in a burial. As a lawyer representing this family under these circumstances, it has given me time to reflect on justice and ask the deeper questions. It has given me time to further reflect on how the system of criminal justice is operationalized. Through this reflection, it has occurred to me that our criminal justice system needs a major overhaul. Already, I’ve seen the barriers in my case as I’ve sought for justice. I’ve thought about all of the cases that have reached the public eye, and all of them up until mine, involved Black Americans. All of these incidents had a tragic end. The system is not fair. It is rigged for the prosecution to indiscriminately decide what cases are pursued vigorously, reach grand juries, trial and conviction.”
Folks, it is not an even playing field. But let me be clear, I am not a police hater in any way. The site of a police officer does not repulse me nor does it generate fear in any way. My relationship with police officers has always been cordial and I appreciate law abiding officers for the protection they provide my community. But through this experience and observation, I realize that some of our fellow Black Americans may have a different view and a different experience.
I am not a subscriber to the All Lives Matter movement because I know this movement was born out of a White reactionary response to the Black Lives Matter movement and its expressed anger and frustration with injustice. Unfortunately, the All Lives Matter movement is rooted in a lack of empathy and understanding to the Black experience with law enforcement. I understand this now. As I continue to fight for truth and resolution on behalf of the Hammond family, I am calling all Americans to see the calls for justice, reform and fairness with an honest lens and a reflective eye. Race and racism does play a major role in the functions of criminal justice. And all of us play a role in eradicating the imbalanced applications in the colors of justice. Get involved, have justice education parties, sign petitions and demand change”.
Well, maybe next time.
Writer, trained Social Worker and Mental Health Therapist. Husband, father and anti-racist at my core.