The Death of Innocents: Remembering the Children Killed by Police Shootings
By: James Dold
‘Ouch daddy. Ouch, it hurts,’ were the last words Christopher Prescott heard his six-year-old son Kameron say as he died from gunshot wounds after officers fired 20 rounds into his mobile home to kill an unarmed woman wanted on credit card fraud charges, just four days before Christmas in 2017. Kameron was killed in Texas where charges were never filed against the officers who discharged their AR-15’s at the home. Two years earlier, in neighboring Louisiana, officers gunned down six-year old Jeremy Mardis after his father had surrendered to police with his hands in the air. Jeremy’s murder resulted in a rare conviction for the officers involved after the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police called the body cam footage “the most disturbing thing” he’s ever seen. A few years before that, seven-year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in Detroit, Michigan, when she was fatally shot in the head during a midnight military-style SWAT raid targeting her uncle. Charges against the officer who killed Aiyana were eventually dropped.
Aiyana, Kameron, and Jeremy aren’t the only children that were killed in the last decade by police, though as kindergartners and first-graders they were among the youngest.
Another young black child murdered by police was Tamir Rice who was gunned down in a park in Cleveland when police responded to a 911 dispatch where the caller identified Tamir as a “juvenile” and the toy gun he was playing with as “probably fake.” Once on the scene officers gave Tamir all of 2 seconds to respond to their command before opening fire. As quick as they were to the draw, they took their time administering first aid — nearly 5 minutes after the fatal shooting. Again, the officers were never charged. The State Attorneys General found “systemic failure” in the Cleveland Police Department and a DOJ investigation reported that officers routinely used “excessive force” and were “rarely disciplined” for such transgressions. Officer Loehmann, who murdered Tamir, had previously resigned from another department after suffering a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training. Yet somehow, he got back on a police force until he finally killed a child.
A few months before Tamir was murdered in Ohio, a 14-year-old high school freshman named Cameron Tillman was gunned down in Louisiana by officers responding to a report of “armed men” in an abandoned house. Cameron and the other boys had been playing with a BB gun in the house they regularly hung out at after school. The officer in Cameron’s case was never prosecuted. That same year, officer Jason Van Dyke of the Chicago Police Department was convicted of murder for the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. At least sixteen police officers were later implicated in an elaborate cover-up to justify officers killing the boy and to shield Van Dyke from arrest and prosecution. That is, they lied to protect a murderous colleague. Then there is the case of fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards, who was leaving a house party when he was gunned down by Dallas police officer Roy Oliver in 2017. Oliver was also convicted of murder.
Sadly, there have been too many children, especially black children, killed by police violence to recount all of their gut wrenching stories.
The question is how many children have to die before we realize it is a systemic problem fueled by a culture of “disinterested violence,” as Toni Morrison mused? How many six-year-old children have to bleed out during Christmas time or while sleeping at home during a raid gone bad until we rethink use of police force — deadly or otherwise. Perhaps more to the point: how can we be a nation that values human life when we’ve decided that the collateral damage of little boys and little girls dying is a price we are willing to pay for the alleged “safety” provided by a militarized police force.
George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are just some of the recent examples of people being killed by police officers. A 13-year-old Autistic boy in Salt Lake City, Utah, nearly lost his life in September after he was gunned down by a barrage of bullets fired by responding officers. “Tell my mom I love her,” the boy said before losing consciousness.
Is this the kind of nation we want to be? Whether we are talking about adults or children, we should all be outraged and saddened by this staggering loss of life and innocence.
Mr. Prescott said the death of his son was “like someone ripping my life away (because) my son was my life.” Every time someone is killed as a result of police violence a mother and father have to live through what Mr. Prescott lived through. And that, as Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, put it, is something we “wouldn’t wish on anybody.”
For the sake of everyone in society it is time to reexamine the militarization of police forces, police training, and to re-think how, why, and under what circumstances lethal force should be permitted, especially in cases involving children.