What Do We Tell Our Children? Explaining The Ray Tensing Mistrial

The recent mistrial in the case against former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing for the murder of Sam Dubose is certainly not the first instance of a grave miscarriage of justice involving the shooting of an unarmed, noncombative black person by a white police officer, but it was one of the first to involve body cam footage that very clearly shows how the murder took place. Someone who is unfamiliar with the intricacies and biases inherent in our judicial system might think that, given the existence of unambiguous videotape that contradicts Officer Tensing’s justification for discharging his weapon at point blank range into the head of Sam Dubose, this would be a fairly open and shut case that resulted in Ray Tensing being sent to prison for a sizable length of time. However, anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with our nation’s absurd reluctance to hold police officers accountable for the deaths of black citizens won’t be too shocked  to learn that, as of right now, Ray Tensing is a free man. There are certainly many ways to cover an injustice like this, but in looking back at the events as they transpired, I started to wonder how one would go about explaining everything that happened to a child. What you’re about to read was my attempt at such an explanation:

Ray Tensing is a person. He is a living person, which is always a nice thing to be. He is also a white person, which is also a nice thing to be most of the time. Ray Tensing used to be a police person, but now he is not. He was a university police person, which is the least special of all the police people, with the exception of the security police because they aren’t allowed to carry bullet-shooting guns. They’re only allowed to carry the stubby lightning-shooting guns. Ray Tensing was allowed to carry a bullet-shooting gun and he used that gun to shoot bullets at Sam Dubose’s head.

Sam Dubose is a person too. Or, he was a person until Ray Tensing shot him in the head. Now he’s a used-to-be person. Sam Dubose was a black person, which is the main reason he’s a used-to-be person now. He was in a car when he became a used-to-be person. Sam Dubose’s car was stopped when he was shot in the head because Ray Tensing pulled him over in his cop car. Ray Tensing says he pulled over Sam Dubose because he had a license plate on the back of his car, but not on the front of his car. Sam Dubose’s family says they pulled him over because he was the same color that they are—the color that Ray Tensing is not.


A Cincinnati woman stands in the rain, demanding justice for the murder of Sam Dubose.

When America was a lot younger, people that are Ray Tensing’s color used to own people that were Sam Dubose’s color and make them do all the really hard work without ever getting any money or getting to leave. The people that were Ray Tensing’s color called them slaves, which meant that they didn’t really consider them people. After a while, one part of America got into a war with another part of America that didn’t want to be America anymore because being part of America would mean that white people could no longer own black people. That part of America tried to start their own country and they came up with their own money and name and flag and everything. Their flag was red with a big blue X across it and inside the big blue X was a bunch of little white stars. Ray Tensing was wearing a shirt with this flag on it under his police uniform when he turned Sam Dubose into a used-to-be person.

People that are Sam Dubose’s color are pulled over by police a lot more than people that are Ray Tensing’s color. Police pull them over for small things in the hopes that they might find bigger things, like weeds and powders and rocks. They also pull them over for their money, which they trade for tickets—but they aren’t good tickets like the ones you get at the movies or a carnival. They’re just tickets that make your more poor than you were before. Sam Dubose had weeds and money in his car when Ray Tensing pulled him over. He didn’t know that Sam Dubose had weeds and money in his car, but he probably hoped that he did. If Ray Tensing had found the weeds and money in his car, he would have gotten to keep them and send Sam Dubose to prison. When normal people take other people’s weeds and money, they call it theft. When police people take other people’s weeds and money, they call it forfeiture, which is just another word for theft.

Sam Dubose knew this. He had been to prison before for selling weeds and he knew that if Ray Tensing found the weeds he had in his car, he might have to go back and he didn’t want that. Sam Dubose had 13 children and he made music for a living. If he was in prison he wouldn’t be able to see his 13 children or make his music. He also wouldn’t have his freedom. Sam Dubose didn’t want that, so when Ray Tensing told him to get out of his car for not having a front license plate, he decided not to. Ray Tensing tried opening the car door to make Sam Dubose get out, but Sam Dubose shut the door and put his car in drive. That’s when Ray Tensing shot Sam Dubose in the head and turned him into a used-to-be person. Since Sam Dubose’s car was in drive and since it was on a hill, it started moving forward after he was shot and didn’t stop until it hit a telephone pole. Later, Ray Tensing would say that he was dragged by Sam Dubose’s car, which is why he shot him. But, Ray Tensing was wearing a camera that recorded what happened and showed that he wasn’t dragged by the car, which means that he lied.

He was wearing a camera because people were upset by how much police people were shooting regular people, especially regular black people. The camera was supposed to stop the police people from shooting regular people as much because it would be harder to lie about what happened when it was all on camera and, if the police people couldn’t lie about why they shot regular people, they’d have to go to prison. But that didn’t happen. The camera didn’t stop Ray Tensing from shooting Sam Dubose and turning him into a used-to-be person. The video in the camera didn’t stop Ray Tensing and the lawyer people he paid to protect him from lying about what happened. And all of it didn’t stop a jury from letting Ray Tensing go because they couldn’t agree on what to call what Ray Tensing did to Sam Dubose.

A jury is a group of people who are a lot like you who decide whether or not you go to prison for something you did. There were 12 people on the jury at Ray Tensing’s trial. 10 of the people on the jury looked like Ray Tensing. 2 of the people looked like Sam Dubose. The jury was a lot like Ray Tensing. It was not a lot like Sam Dubose. Most of the jury people who looked like Ray Tensing didn’t want to charge him with murder. They wanted to charge him with something called involuntary manslaughter, which is just a fancy way of saying you killed somebody because they did something that made you really, really angry or really, really scared. Ray Tensing said that Sam Dubose really, really scared him—scared him enough to shoot him—and 8 out of the 12 people on the jury agreed with him. They had never met Sam Dubose, since Sam Dubose had long since become a used-to-be person, but they had seen people that looked like him and that was good enough for them. In America, that’s what we call justice.

Categories: Police Violence, Race, Social Justice, Uncategorized

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