By Krystal Sierra
For me, the details surfaced Sunday morning, over coffee, nearly eighteen hours after it happened: Twelve-year-old boy Tamir Rice shot dead by a Cleveland police officer at Cudell Recreation Center Saturday, November 22, 2014, at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Saturday. 3:30. Cudell Rec.
[blocktext align=”right”]I think of Saturday afternoons I spent as a twelve-year-old, kicking up rocks, frustrated with my family for real and imagined injustices[/blocktext]I think of Saturday afternoons I spent as a twelve-year-old, kicking up rocks, frustrated with my family for real and imagined injustices. How many times had I worked myself up into a frenzy thinking of what I would say to my mother? How I would leave and make her miss me? Is it really that hard to imagine the need to blow off steam, to imagine space where you are able to say exactly what needs to be said without repercussions? The surveillance video, released Wednesday, shows Tamir Rice doing just that minutes before his death—pacing, kicking snow, pointing a gun at real and invisible characters in his game. Here, the facts of the story spring loose: some say Officer Timothy Loehmann asked Tamir Rice to put his hands in the air, others say the officer asked him to show his weapon. In the video, Tamir lifts his shirt (with both hands?) a fraction of a second before he collapses to the ground. In another fraction, Officer Loehmann aims his gun and squeezes the trigger.
A bullet tore away from its chamber and into Tamir Rice’s body. I am sick, imagining the fraction Tamir knows pain and panic and the hammer-knock of impulse, the fraction in which Officer Loehmann decides to shoot.
One or two seconds before the police cruiser enters the scene, Tamir faces the camera, the direction from which the police emerge. He is standing at the center-north end of the gazebo, and, watching the video now, I am reminded of attorney Timothy Kucharski’s statement Sunday: “[Tamir’s mother] woke up yesterday with a son. Today she woke up without a son.” The fractions: Tamir alive, Tamir dead, and the camera’s eye catching the outward manifestation of shifted fate.
[blocktext align=”left”]I am left with more questions than answers. Like: Why had the police officers put themselves in point-blank range?[/blocktext]The cruiser pulls up, and on the side furthest from the parking lot—the passenger side—Tamir stands in the gazebo. On the other, two-foot-high cement pillars. In a flash, Officer Loehmann is out, Tamir is on the ground, and we see the driver, Officer Frank Garmback, swing his door open wide as he takes cover at the front end of the vehicle. I am left with more questions than answers. Like: Why had the police officers put themselves in point-blank range?
Tamir Rice was not carrying a gun.
The news reported that Tamir Rice had in his possession an “airsoft” replica with the orange indicator tip removed. Monday, social media was convoluted with images released by Cleveland Police Department of the replica. My first thought: It looks real. Then, I know a boy who did that to his toy pop-gun. Online conversations turned against the parents, blaming them for not teaching the child right from wrong, as if right and wrong is clear, as if their small shoes fit all parents’ feet.
Now people say, Officer Loehmann would not have seen the orange indicator tip anyway because the replica was in Tamir’s waistband.
I imagine Tamir’s mother sobbing and sobbing and the horror of it washing over her. Somewhere I read that she could be heard screaming through the streets, upon awakening: here yesterday, gone today. What would it feel like if I had woken up today without my son? It would have felt, I think, as if I suddenly found myself standing, utterly electrified, in the body of a lightening bolt. I imagine Tamir’s mother beating the floor with her fists, as if the pummeling could somehow break the constructs of reality. My son, nine years old, sat next to me at our dining room table a couple of weeks ago after a school field trip to Lakewood City Hall. The class, he said, wobbling on his seat, had gotten to see the shooting range. “It’s fine, Mom,” he explained. “The police had the guns.”
[blocktext align=”right”]My son needed me to know about Ferguson the way those police officers at the shooting range had known about a gun, about all of its parts, about the way it fit together.[/blocktext]
How could I explain to him, then, that guns are not safe, that nearly 10,000 children are injured or die in gun-related incidents each year (Pediatrics, February, 2014)? How, then, could I communicate a number so large to a person so young? I stumbled through the story of what happened in Ferguson, MO, only to feel as though I was abusing it, objectifying it, using Ferguson as a cautionary tale. I had not followed the story as closely as my friends all had. Complacent, people could say. My son needed me to know about Ferguson the way those police officers at the shooting range had known about a gun, about all of its parts, about the way it fit together. He needed me to assure him that there is no such thing as good guy and bad guy, and he needed me to communicate the permanence of death.
I stumbled my way through, but he accepted it. He says, now, he accepted it because he believed me and understood.
I took my son Sunday night, the night after the shooting, to light two prayer candles at Cudell Recreation Center—one for Tamir and one for his mother. We stood there holding each other, wind whipping our hair as he shivered with what I had not known then was influenza and strep throat. Once we were home, he slept, and he slept for two days after. Even though I’m still grieving for Tamir Rice, and for a mother who lost her son, I know I can’t be satisfied by writing here, now, today, that I’ll count the days my son wakes like shiny new coins.
It’s really sad.
He could’ve grown
up to be a hero. A bullet
into someone’s stomach! It’s just sad…
He’s gone/dead. I wish
I could do something
to help. I wish
it could be done
over, only this time
no one gets killed.
(Poem written in collaboration with my son.)
Krystal Sierra is the editor for Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal. She lives with her son in Lakewood, Ohio.