No matter how old they are, how big or small they might be, Black Americans are time and time again implicitly perceived as threats by white Americans. Decades of harmful, vile racist myths and stereotypes about how Black people are tougher and more resistant to pain than regular people have wormed their way deep into the white psyche.
It’s why 12-year-old Tamir Rice was assumed to be 20 years old when the Cleveland police arrived on the scene and immediately shot him dead for playing with a toy gun in a park. It’s why over half of white medical trainees believe that black people have “thicker skin” and are less sensitive to pain than white people. It’s why the American Psychological Association found “evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.”
It’s why it took four officers to restrain George Floyd while he suffocated to death.
It must have been why the staff at Lakeside Academy youth facility thought it was necessary for eight adults to hold down sixteen-year-old Cornelius Fredericks after he threw a sandwich in the cafeteria. One of them sat on him for twelve minutes. Another twelve minutes passed before they bothered to get him any medical attention, found an investigation by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Video of the killing was released today and can be viewed here. CONTENT WARNING: It is extremely disturbing to watch.
Fredericks went into cardiac arrest two days later. His death has been ruled a homicide by restraint asphyxia.
Witnesses said they heard the boy repeating that grim phrase that has become a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement: “I can’t breathe.”
An investigation by the Michigan DHS found that the response was “significantly disproportionate” to the action. “Throwing bread is not a demonstration of imminent threat of harm to self or others and did not warrant physical management,” said the report.
Lakeside, which was contracted by the State of Michigan to care for children in the foster and juvenile “justice system” has since had its contract revoked.
Two staff members and a school nurse — Michael Mosley, Zachary Solis, Heather McLogan — are all facing charges.
“Micheal Mosley and Zachary Solis are facing homicide charges of involuntary manslaughter (felonies that carry up to 15 years) as well as two second degree child abuse charges, each carrying up to 10 years. Heather McLogan, identified by Fieger as the nurse in the video who called 911, is facing involuntary manslaughter and one charge of child abuse,” reports Michigan Radio.
The attorney for Fredericks’ family, Geoffrey Fieger, has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the institution. “Cornelius Fredericks did nothing, he’s a child. He threw a sandwich. And he was executed on video tape,” said Fieger at his press conference today. “I’m calling on the Kalamazoo Prosecutor to charge those additional people. There are many more than two people suffocating him.”
While for once the wheels of justice are already firmly in motion, it shatters the heart to once again watch such wild violence being inflicted upon a child of color for no reason — and to know this tragedy has played itself out again and again and again across a nation steeped in racism to its very core.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.