Saturday, December 27, 2014

That kid in the black jacket is not Antonio Martin

This clip posted on is going around on Twitter, and a lot of people think the kid in the black jacket with the cell phone is Antonio Martin. I thought so, too, at first. But then I noticed the third figure in the clip.

Yes, the kid in the black jacket is holding a cellphone and not a gun, but that kid in the black jacket is also not Antonio Martin.

Unfortunately, Antonio is the kid with the backpack at the edge of the frame, lower left corner. As you may be able to see, he lifts up his arms, and the officer backs up. The friend then jumps back.

Whether the gun was loaded or not, whether Martin fired or not, we know that if you point a gun at an officer right in front of him, he's most likely going to draw his weapon and shoot, especially if you're a black person. I could write more about the evils of guns here, but been there, done that.

As most sane people are, I am anti-police-brutality and overreach. Furthermore, I firmly believe that people of color are often mistreated and prejudged by police officers in general. I'm not one of the people who automatically believes the official versions of events when I hear them, including Officer Wilson's story for the Mike Brown shooting, which is why I marched in protest here in New Orleans.

But I believe as well that when you fight the good fight, you must be fair and have your facts straight. In the Antonio Martin case, some of us are so anxious to find police at fault that we are buying any story that contradicts the police narrative and then not bothering to check facts. That's a good way to sound unreasonable.

Yes, police officers kill black men at a disproportionate rate compared to white men, and that crisis is worthy of our righteous anger, but is it wise to blow up even when police officers do their jobs and face situations in which they must defend themselves from people with guns?

We can't expect police officers to not draw and shoot when a gun is pointed at them, and the person pointing the gun is that close. They're human, so I'm sure they're not fear-free when someone waves a gun in their faces. So, while I can't say for a fact Antonio Martin had a gun, based on what I see when I look at the Antonio Martin surveillance footage the teen assumed a stance and moved as though he had a gun. So, I think this is not a case for second-guessing the officer.

My heart goes out to Toni Martin-Green, Antonio Martin's mother. Everything she's said about her son is probably true as far as she knows or wants to know. So, I'm low on patience with people making fun of her for saying that her son was trying to turn his life around. Wouldn't we all hope that was the case if we had a child in trouble? So, I hope his mother gets the help she needs to get through this.

As for Antonio actions, he may have been trying to get his life on a better track, but late Tuesday night, December 23, his life skipped that track. He made a bad decision, and it cost him his life.

I know some of us are so infuriated by the way police treat members of the black community that we will still doubt the Berkeley police department's version of events even in the face of evidence that support it, and that skepticism is understandable. Police departments around the country have been caught in lies before. The Ferguson police were not honest, efficient, or respectful after the Mike Brown's shooting, and more recently in the Tamir Rice homicide, the Cleveland police had already released a false report and stood firmly behind it until video showed the report was a lie. But in the tragic case of Antonio Martin, the police officer appears to be telling the factual truth about what happened that night.

Does that mean we should only stand up when the dead child is a "perfect victim"? No, it does not. Does that mean we should no longer demand investigations when police shoot black people with "criminal" histories? No, it does not. Does that mean Antonio Martin's life and death can be deemed less significant than the deaths of others? No, it does not.

Does that mean that our community, education system, and American society failed Antonio Martin? Probably. He was only 18 years old, and according to cognitive scientists, the teen brain is not mature. Human brain development goes on longer than we've been led to believe.

Sadly for us all, there probably were adults in Antonio's neighborhood and leaders in the Berkeley community who saw the Martin household was in peril, in particular the oldest boy, Antonio, but no one wanted to get involved or no one felt inadequate for the task.

More than likely there was some program proposed that would have helped families like Antonio Martin's family, but the bill and funding for that program never passed in Congress or Missouri's state legislature because it was labeled "more welfare." Most likely there's some program that's been proven successful that could have assigned someone to intervene on Antonio's behalf when he first showed signs of frustration with his life circumstance or got into trouble, but in the name of individual accountability and fiscal responsibility, for the love of tall tales about bootstraps, that program was cut.

Does the American population as a whole really want to help people like Antonio, or does it just want to sit on its ass and demonize people who have the deck stacked against them? It's a difficult question and the answer, I'm sure, is complex. And maybe taking time to throw tantrums about the killing of Antonio Martin is part of our journey toward finding an answer. I don't know. But I do know that we should be fair in our allegations when the police kill a member of the black community. I know we have to weigh evidence and choose our battles.

When we don't get our facts straight, it gives our opponents an opening to overwhelm and distract us with minutia. It gives them a way to do what they would prefer to do, ignore the real problems, dismiss the truth. Knowing this is how the world works, can we pause, reflect, and focus again on the central points of our protest? Can we shake off distractions and move on?

Unity of purpose is a beautiful thing, but a mob mentality smothers wisdom.

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