A few days ago, as a grand jury announced that they would not indict police officers for the shooting of Tamir Rice, somebody decided to edit the shooting’s Wikipedia page, replacing Rice’s photo with one of a chimpanzee.
An editor quickly reversed the change, but the culprit reinstated the chimpanzee photo, adding the caption, “A photograph of the Dindu Nuffin.” Again, the edit was reversed, and future editing of the page has been restricted.
How on Earth could somebody parade such a blatant, disgusting, racist slur against a dead, 12-year-old child?
There’s been a lot of debate surrounding the 2014 incident, in which Rice – who was African-American – was shot after displaying a pellet gun that looked like a firearm. He died a day later.
Should officers have responded the way they did? Should Rice have gotten first aid more quickly? Should the dispatcher have passed along information about Rice’s age, along with suspicions that the gun was fake? Should realistic toy guns be sold at all, and should Rice have been allowed to play with one?
Of course, there are also questions about the role of race. Would a white child have been shot in these circumstances? If so, would the officers have been prosecuted?
These discussions are always contentious, partly because they’re about life and death, but also because the question of whether a shooting was justified is sometimes cast as a question of whether you think racism is justified. It’s difficult for us to talk about race when the charge of racism is thrown around so easily. Many Americans prefer to dodge the subject altogether, rather than risk being unfairly branded a bigot.
But, at the same time, it’s clear that there are some truly despicable racists out there. (If the apparent IP address is any indication, one of them is just south of Pittsburgh.) The “Dindu Nuffin” editor wasn’t content to just mutter their bigotry to themselves. No, they chose to share it, to put it on display for all to see at the very moment that the greatest number of people would see it.
They chose to take a 12-year-old African-American boy who died tragically and depict him as a chimpanzee.
When it comes to race – and, I’d say, politics in general – we have to wend between two extremes. We shouldn’t be so quick to accuse others of bigotry or some other sinister intention. We should resist the temptation to assume the worst about people who disagree.
However, the worst is definitely out there. And it’s not afraid to rear its ugly head, almost reveling in its loathsome prejudice. Even if Rice’s death wasn’t a racist act, there are some racists who evidently want it to be just that.
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