Dear Tamir…

Dear Tamir,

Today is my nephew’s birthday. He’s a millennium baby in the truest sense: born 01/01/00. Isn’t that neat? That makes him a tad older than you would have been, but when I see your picture I think of him a little. You two don’t look alike, but still. I remember when people maligned President Obama for saying Trayvon Martin could have been his son. Sentiments like that are so visceral that they often all but defy words and therefore probably should be left unsaid, at least in the political sphere. But I think I might know what he meant.

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We’ve never met, so this might be awkward. But I hope you won’t mind me taking a moment to apologize to you. Either no one ever taught you not to point guns at people, or you chose to ignore that wisdom. We’ll likely never know which, so that’s not why I’m apologizing. Many who say you were heinously murdered haven’t bothered to learn about the force continuum. They haven’t considered the families of slain police officers, much less the personal trauma of starting a shift with two-day-old coffee on your shirt and ending it with twelve-year-old blood on your hands. At the same time, many who say you sealed your own fate may not have honestly asked themselves about the tactical soundness of an officer’s decision to plow headlong into sudden handshake distance with an unknown, unsuspecting, and suddenly startled suspect.

I once worked a case where the police shot a drunk driver sixteen times. His brief flight had just ended with a few spins and a nose-first crash into a ditch, after which he was unresponsive but alive. As the police all converged on the car, one officer’s trip-and-fall led to an AD/ND, which led to another officer emptying his magazine into the perp’s disabled vehicle. He wasn’t alive anymore. A colleague of mine would later remark that if the guy hadn’t been driving drunk and hadn’t run from police, he wouldn’t have gotten himself killed.

That’s true.

It’s also true that the perp would still be alive if Officer A hadn’t hastily dashed from his squad car and bear-hugged the trigger of his service pistol while sprinting down a rocky embankment in pitch blackness. He might also have survived this encounter if Officer B had more accurately assessed the threat before blindly opening fire. He would have done a little time. Might have gotten clean. Might have continued to be a nuisance or even graduated to menace. We’ll never know.

Which truth is right? They both are. And both are wrong. Or at least, incomplete. Oversimplified. But because we’re all stuck in our respective corners, no one sees it. Only in platitudinous fiction novels does one person ever deign to “climb into [another person’s] skin and walk around in it.” Unless and until they do, that guy died for nothing. Regardless of how much or how little value one might put on his life, no one gained or learned a single thing from his death. Everybody loses. The same is true in your case, Tamir. And that’s why I’m apologizing. Happy New Year.