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Fear and Motherhood: Comments About the Tragic Killing of Tamir Rice

Photo Credit, See PyramydAir
"I want a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle." -Ralphie. "A Christmas Story

As illustrated in 1983 "A Christmas Story", little boys love playing with guns. In that tale, the lead character, "Ralphie", longs for a "Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle". A large part of the movie revolves around his longing and the fears expressed by several concerned adults that receiving this gift would cause him to "shoot [his] eye out".
Ralphie: I want a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle.
Mother: No, you'll shoot your eye out.
The story resonated with many and the movie has stood the test of time, becoming a Christmas classic. I watched it this year with a new perspective. I realized that as worried as people were about Ralphie getting hurt, nobody was worried that receiving this gift might result in his death. However, that is exactly what occurred to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot in cold blood outside a Cleveland recreation center last year.

Some Kids Are Allowed to Be Kids And Others Are Not

I generally avoid polarizing political topics on this blog. However, when there are events in the news that disturb me deeply, I discuss them. The killing of Tamir Rice disturbs me greatly because he was killed simply for being a kid.

People like to dismiss race-based discussions and say that we live in a post racial society. They say that race doesn't matter, but it actually does.
Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people, according to a Guardian investigation which found 102 of 464 people killed...with law enforcement officers were not carrying weapons. See, Guardian Report 
In addition to the many nameless and faceless victims, there have been many high profile killings of young Black boys by the police in the past three years. The publicity began with the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida and was punctuated by the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Those killings were noteworthy. However, the reports afterwards told the story of ominous Black young men who were defying authority (if one defines a Neighborhood Watch Person as authority in the case of Trayvon Martin). There were so many explanations for what happened that appeared to justify the lack of indictments that I remained relatively silent. Perhaps the justice system worked??? I doubted it, but as an attorney, I tried to respect and accept the process.

My son

Tamir Rice Was Killed For Acting Like a Kid

The Tamir Rice case is different though. He wasn't walking through the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time in a hooded sweatshirt carrying Skittles and iced tea. He wasn't with a group of friends confronted by an officer and refused to identify himself. He didn't have a record. He was a twelve year old kid in a playground playing with a BB gun. He was doing what thousands of children, mainly young boys do in America every day. He was doing what Ralphie did in "The Christmas Story". However, unlike those other kids, Tamir is dead.

The only difference I can see between Tamir Rice and the other kids that play with guns in public every day is that he was a big Black kid who wasn't given permission by society to play how he wanted. He also wasn't given the ability to drop his "weapon" because the officer shot him within two seconds of pulling up in his squad car. The slaughtering of Tamir Rice should disturb everybody.

I appreciate that police officers have stressful jobs and are not the enemy. Indeed, my father-in-law is a cop and is very principled. So, I get that the officer had a need to protect his own safety. However, even if the officer believed that Tamir Rice had an actual gun, he should have been given an opportunity to put it down before being shot.

Maybe, Tamir Rice was playing with the BB gun in an aggressive manner. Maybe he was even being stupid. We know he did something to invite a call from a concerned neighbor. He still shouldn't be dead. The thing with being twelve is that you are supposed to be allowed to play. The adults in your life are supposed to protect you from your stupidity, especially the police who are supposed to serve and protect...

I am Terrified That My Son Won't Be Allowed to Be a Kid Either

As the mother of a Black boy, I worry. However, I am not alone. My Facebook news feed has been flooded by moms who feel the same way. There are Black moms, White moms who have adopted Black boys, and moms of other races who are terrified that their sons might be mistaken for being Black and wind up dead. We are all TERRIFIED.

Right now, my son, is the vision of joy and loveliness that you see in the above photograph. He is the kid that countless people, Black and White admire for his countenance and smile. He is the one that people believe should model in magazines. Nobody thinks that he is a threat. I pray that continues. To ensure that, I will never buy him a BB gun, no matter how much he begs because the color of his skin means that some things are off limits.

That said, I really hope that a productive, nationwide conversation about how to protect childhood for all kids begins. If the answer is that Black moms have to worry more, Black kids have to be perfect, and the majority society marginalizes the problem--we all lose. The truth is, all communities are at risk when police officers feel empowered to violate people's rights without consequence. 

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