My 11-year-old son used his allowance to purchase a BB gun at Academy Sports & Outdoors on a shopping trip with his grandfather a few weeks ago.
Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about it. My father, who grew up in Rosa, a rural agricultural community in St. Landry Parish, thought nothing of it. He grew up hunting deer, rabbit and whatever else was in season along with his eight brothers and scores of cousins. Back in his day, as kids, they handled real shotguns, not replicas, and missed weeks at a time of school to help his father in the fields.
I could have gotten really angry with my father and called him up, as I’ve done in the past, to explain why I parent the way I do and give him my speech on why I believe fake guns and weaponry are not suitable playthings. And, in turn, he would’ve spoke of how he was raised, hunting, fishing, riding horses, slaughtering hogs at boucheries — rites of passage for boy children reared in the country.
But I didn’t.
“What are you going to do with a BB gun?” I questioned my son.
I half heard his answer, “hunting” before unleashing a lecture detailing the dangers of him as a young black boy being seen walking around the city with a toy gun.
“I know. I know,” he interrupted, “I know better than that.”
Over the weekend, Cleveland police shot down Tamir Rice after the authorities received a 9-1-1 call about him being spotted in a park with a gun, an airsoft-type gun that shoots plastic pellets. Tamir was 12, barely older than my son.
The 9-1-1 caller said at least twice that the gun was probably fake. However, the dispatcher doesn’t appear to have revealed that detail to cops. The police report that instead of Tamir raising his hands as directed, he drew the pellet gun from his waistband though he said nothing and did not point it at them. Cops shot Tamir anyway.
I told my son Tamir’s story this week.
There was no change in his voice. Nor facial expression. He was numb. Unfortunately, this is what happens when violence — street violence, police violence, emotional violence — becomes the new rite of passage for our young black youth. When horrific incidents happen so frequently and injustice reigns as the order of the day, they damn near expect tragedy to strike the people they know, those who resemble them and them personally. Eventually.
To cope with this world’s madness, our black youth detach as a means not to live every single day broken to prevent an overdose on sadness.
The cynic in me, a student of history — even recent history with Darren Wilson not being indicted in the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — already knows the outcome of the police shooting investigation of Tamir.
Word choice by the media and law enforcement will be deliberate and calculated to condemn Tamir while justifying yet another murder by the police. Key phrases such as “split second decision,” “life-or-death situation” and “public safety” will be used to drum up sympathy for police, in general. The officers involved, out on administrative leave, will be painted as victims.
Media coverage and police language will turn this preteen into a monster. A narrative of Tamir as a menace will emerge. Every detention he’s ever received at school, every less-than-stellar progress report, any trouble he may have gotten into in his short life will become a matter of record and be offered up as evidence that little Tamir was headed for a life of thuggery.
This is what happens in these cases. The dead are the ones who end up on trial, and the police lifted up as misunderstood heroes.
If law enforcement believes these police shootings are truly tragedies as they say in press conferences to the mourning families and the grieving public, when no indictment decisions are being handed down; if these words are not mere script, why do these killer cops get to gloat in national TV interviews and tout a perverse self-righteousness?
If this is supposed to be our country, one shared with cops and civilians alike, and not some far-off war zone in a hard-to-pronounce mountain range or desert or jungle, why is a black person killed every 28 hours by police officers, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes right here in this country?
Tamir was a 12-year-old boy playing in the park with his BB gun when police shot him. Was he shot because he was a threat to “public safety”? Or was he shot because that’s what happens when cops in America have “split second decisions” to make about young black boys?
So, should I tell my son, the grandchild of a St. Landry Parish-bred outdoorsman, that he cannot have that BB gun? While my son says he “knows better,” the police demonstrate over and over that they do not.
jewel bush is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune and The (Houma) Courier. She has won numerous awards including distinctions from the Louisiana Press Association and the New York Times Regional Media Group. Her short story, “Red Polish” appears in “Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.” Her newest piece, Related Somehow to Africa: Black Palestinians and the Search for Shared Identity, appears in issue 115 of the Harvard journal, Transition.