Those cheeks. They were the kind that invited kisses and pinches from relatives, so round and prominent, a part of his body that revealed he was not so far from infancy. A baby face, still, even at 12-years-old. I wonder if his mother still stroked those cheeks while he slept? This is what mothers do with their babies. We have to know every inch of our children, commit every detail to our memories because these details sustain us, our own existence suddenly dependent on being able to know and love a child. We cling to these memories like we are building up reserves before adulthood swoops in to steal our children away. Adulthood did not come for this boy, though. Later, the boy’s killer would be able to hide behind the excuse that the boy’s size made him look like a man. He wouldn’t have thought that, though, if he had looked at the boy’s face, seen those cheeks. But why bother to look at his face when his skin color defies the possibility of innocence?
This boy was playing with a toy gun in a park, in a country that loves guns so much a mass slaughter of children was not enough to stop our lust for them. How quickly our lust turns to terror, depending on the color of the hand that holds the weapon. The boy’s toy looked like the real thing. A real gun. A man-sized body. Black skin. Two seconds. BAM! There were no orders to drop the weapon. No orders for hands up. The assessment had been made: A real gun. A man-sized body. Black skin.
When we took to the streets after Michael Brown died, we demanded things change. We won’t stand for these abuses of power, we said. Stop killing black men, we said. Systemic racism has to end, we said. But it didn’t work. It wasn’t time. Not yet.
Eric Garner? Not yet.
Freddie Gray? Not yet.
Sandra Bland? Not yet.
Tamir Rice? Not yet.
Tamir Rice was a child. Not old enough to have a “real” job. Not old enough to drive. Not even old enough to buy a ticket to a rated “R” movie. Just old enough, just black enough, to get gunned down by a police officer who will suffer no consequences for his actions. This is, of course, how the game is played.
As it always happens, we will be told to get over it. We will be made to feel like our anger is unwarranted, our tears unnecessary. Look how we all overreacted to this officer just doing his job! We are in the goddamn United States of America, and we believe, we must believe, that putting on the uniform, the Kevlar vest, and the badge transforms a common man into a hero. And heroes are always infallible.
Tim Loehmann murdered Tamir Rice. Officer Loehmann, with his sketchy professional past, took the life of a 12-year-old boy, and his own life remains intact. We have to take it again. We have to accept that what’s right and just is not ours to have. We have to accept that ours is a country that says it is ok for police to kill black men and boys, to leave them lying on streets, and sidewalks, and in the backs of vans, their requests for help, their final words ignored. I want to believe we can do better than this, that we are better than this. But I am just not sure anymore.