Tall Black Boys: Childhood does not expire at 5'7"
Back in November, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer who mistook the boy's pellet gun for an actual firearm. Three months later, the city of Cleveland is arguing in court that Tamir Rice is responsible for his own death. Naturally, news of this argument broke, Twitter erupted, and I spent countless hours reading reactions, including Shaun King’s powerful rebuttal posted here. There is so much we can talk about here ( like the fact that the officer who fatally shot Rice did so less than 2 seconds after pulling up in his car but needed four full minutes before calling for help as the young boy bled out). But what stood out to me most were these words from the President of the Cleveland Police Union, Steve Loomis:
“Tamir Rice is in the wrong,” he said. “He’s menacing. He’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.”
The audacity of this man to speak of a 12 year old taken from this world in such a gruesome way astounds me. Even more so, in the midst of the painful reality check that Americans are receiving regarding the alarming pattern of police brutality against people of color in our country. How dare you?
Many are recoiling at Loomis’ accusation that Rice’s youthful appearance has been misrepresented, and rightfully so. The photos being passed around of Tamir Rice are not from years, or even months before his murder, but weeks. He was wide eyed and chubby cheeked and anyone who took more than a second and a half to look at him would have seen him as what he was, a boy.
My problem with the reaction of those calling for justice to Loomis’s destructive words is that it still leaves us debating whether or not Rice was justifiably killed based on his appearance. Had Rice been 5’11” and skinnier with a square jaw, like my 12 year old brother is, would we find Loomis’ argument more palatable? How big and tall can a 12 year old black boy be before we no longer feel validated in defending him as a child to those who are set firmly on viewing him as a man?
A little kid in an adult body is still a little kid.
More disturbing still than Loomis’ attempt to portray Rice as a menacing thug are the five little words that came before it. “Tamir Rice is in the wrong.” Call me naive, but I’d like to think we live in a world where we would never blame a twelve year old of any race, gender, sexuality, religion or socioeconomic background for his or her own death…but in what world do we blame a child for his own murder because of his height or stature? It would be one thing if the argument was that the officer did not know Tamir was a child and that it effected his assessment of the situation, but it is a different argument entirely to claim that Tamir caused his own death by being 5’7” at the age of 12.
I look at photos of Tamir and I see my little brother, Karson. He’ll turn 13 next month and he is already 5’11”, 155 lbs and growing every day. He is taller than every child in his class, his teacher and his principal. He has the same wide eyes and warm complexion as Tamir did and this summer, he is moving to Cleveland with my parents. My mom carries his birth certificate to his basketball games because opposing teams have made a habit of requesting proof of his age and he stopped trying to order off kids menus long before his twelfth birthday because the skeptical looks from waitresses made him uncomfortable. Any cop who would mistake Tamir as an adult would be even more likely to make that mistake looking at Karson and thousands of other big black boys across the country. I cannot sit by silently as we blame them for doing the best they can in navigating this crazy, broken, volatile world in the tall, strong bodies God gave them. Childhood cannot expire at 5'7".