Toy Gun, Snowy Day

Snow-covered swingset
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“If you didn’t know him, or don’t know his city, or if you simply are too exhausted to sift one story from all the others, you might vaguely remember him as the kid who got killed in Cleveland during that period, from roughly the summer of 2014 through the spring of 2015, when black people getting killed by police received an unusual amount of national attention. Tamir was shot on November 22, 2014, which was after John Crawford in Dayton and Michael Brown in Ferguson but before Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix and Walter Scott in South Carolina.”
–Sean Flynn, "The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear" (GQ Magazine, July 14, 2016)

“One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.”
–Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day, 1962

Four hundred thirty-two thousand seconds. That wild-eyed white man, who’d shot up Planned Parenthood until he’d injured twelve and left three people dead, had 432,000 seconds to surrender after the kill. All that time, 12 hours—his gift after he waged bloody war for angry white men’s lies about baby parts. Tamir, you committed no crime. You did nothing to inspire a failed rookie cop’s deadly fear. The cop who murdered you gave you 1.7 seconds, Tamir.

One point seven seconds—not enough time to breathe, jump, run and hide, if you even thought to run or hide. Why would you, Tamir? You had no reason to hide. Your sister right close at Cudell Rec, you were just a twelve-year-old Black boy, playing alone on that snowy day, playing with a toy gun, making your own fun outside. Just you. Now the news plays your death over and over, an endless loop.

My body freezes each time I see your body fall, Tamir. Each time you fall, I want to be witness at your side. I wish I could freeze time. Every time I witness, I see my own son in you. Same bright eyes, same big smile. Each time acrid tears fall down my face into my mouth, I taste fear. In your brown dimpled face, I see my own boy, my only son, so tall, so strong, my only one. His smooth brown cheeks contrast with muscles, untested natural brawn.

When he was Baby, They said Toddler. When he was Toddler, They said Boy. Now he’s Boy, They say Man. They see Thug. They see Monster, ready to rage. Perpetrator, guilty till shot dead to prove otherwise. Tamir, I see my own son in you. Same big smile, same bright eyes. Tamir, I tell you like I tell my son; it is not a crime to be big for your age.

Tamir, I think of your mama, Samaria, how she carries a weight too heavy to bear, a burden of pain, every mother of fears. Let me say it plain: A burden of pain every mother of a Black child fears. A fear renewed every time we say goodbye and watch you go. Angry tears fall hot. Tamir, I don’t want to think of the bright flow of your blood. How it must have formed a terrible halo around your body in the Cleveland snow. Were you still alive? Were you now a twelve-year-old body that the cops left alone once shot? Could you have survived?

The cops locked your sister, Tajai, in their car, screaming, while your life slipped away. You were left alone to your assigned fate until an FBI agent arrived, found the heart to try to help you, too late. Too late. Tamir, the day you died I knocked a water gun so violently from my son’s grasp, we both pulled back and gasped as it flew from his hand across the floor.

I told him loud and fast and twice, he couldn’t play with that toy gun in the house, or outside anymore. To his outraged “Why not?” I spoke your name for the first, never to be last time. Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice.

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