By Martha Bayne
Two weeks ago an article started making the social media rounds in Cleveland and beyond — a Belt article, about the curious online text that marked the west-side gazebo where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed in 2014.
“Community memorial for Tamir Rice, shot and killed by CPD officers who shot him in under 2s after breaking department policy regarding escalation of force,” reads the text, which is visible onscreen to players of Pokemon Go and its precursor in augmented-reality gaming, Ingress.
“Hey — I wrote that!” said a Clevelander named Jamie after a friend posted the story.
Jamie lives around the corner from the Cudell rec center where Rice was shot, and walks their dog by the park almost every day. (Jamie asked us not to use their last name, and prefers go by “they” when referred to by a pronoun.) For the last few years they’ve been an avid player of Ingress, and posted the descriptive text in Ingress shortly after Rice’s shooting.
“I never thought I’d be making a political statement through Ingress, let alone through Pokemon Go.”“I was just tired of walking by police memorials when I walked to the park,” Jamie says, pointing out that IRL there are two signs memorializing police officers nearby. Also, they said, “Ingress is played by a lot of cops — so every police station has a marker, and every cop bar.”
Another Ingress player had already created an online “marker” for the Cudell gazebo; Jamie just added the text.
“I never thought I’d be making a political statement through Ingress, let alone through Pokemon Go.”
Jamie, who works in tech support and programming, got involved in Cleveland activism through the Occupy movement in 2011 and was active in the community protests and organizing that followed Tamir’s death. They’re still frustrated and angry over the city’s inadequate response to the senseless killing of a 12-year-old boy.
“We’ve been under a Department of Justice investigation since Tamir was born, basically,” they points out. The March defeat of Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, under fire for his handling of the investigation into Rice’s death, was a step in the right direction, but “we sort of hate-voted [Michael O’Malley] in. There’s still an accountability issue; the work isn’t done yet.”
The Ingress text, they says, is just one tiny way to push for that accountability, and stands in the tradition of other online memorials – like this one, created by Ingress uses following the June 12 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
Jamie thinks it’s fittingly ironic that Pokemon Go might bring attention to problems with policing in black neighborhoods, noting that the east side of Cleveland has far fewer Ingress “portals” than the west — a disparity they assumes is a product of the racial demographics of east and west. “I have considered on more than one occasion that playing Ingress involved going places and behaving in ways that would make it difficult for black people to play without significant police harassment …. So I’m glad that Pokemon Go got popular in a way that highlights that disparity.”
Still, says Jamie, there’s a ways to go. “I’ve downloaded Pokemon. I got to level seven, but I’m still not sure I understand how it works.”
Martha Bayne is editor-in-chief of Belt Magazine.