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It Seems Just "Living While Black" Can Get You Killed These Days

11/28/2014 08:36 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 05:59 EST
Volanthevist via Getty Images

When I was 12, my friends and I would buy those fake plastic guns that the dollar store sold with the red rounds that made popping sounds. In the suburbs, they were popular, and we'd play cops and robbers in the nearby park and in the front of our yards, like children do.

One day while shopping with my mother, I bought a new toy gun for one dollar. My old one was broken. Upon exiting the dollar store, I was so eager to load it up that I ripped the packaging right off, exposing my brand new, teeny, plastic red and brown gun.

My mother told me to put it away.

I asked her why. What was the big deal? It was fake, and I was just a kid.

She told me that should the cops see me, they could mistake me for carrying a real gun and arrest me. Given we were at Scarborough Town Centre, unfortunately known as a "ghetto" mall, she feared that the dense amount of cops would increase my chances of running into trouble.

My mother was so worried about me getting arrested. Ten years later, had she truly understood the magnitude of Black children being killed by white officers, she would have never let me buy a toy gun in the first place.

I was the same age that Tamir Rice was when he pulled a fake gun out of his waistband. Seconds after police arrived, he was shot.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child, succumbed to his injuries the next day. It was Timothy Loehmann, 26, the Cleveland Police rookie who went out to find a black guy who was pointing his pistol at everyone, according to the 911 call. It was noted that the gun was most likely fake. Loehmann was responsible for ending Rice's short, pre-adolescent life.

"Shots fired, male down, black male, maybe 20," said Loehmann, who called in the incident.

This is what I've never understood about these white cops identifying Black young males. Why do we only refer to Black youth as "men"? Why do we only reserve the rightful titles of "child," "kid", "boy," "youth," "teen," and "young man" for white kids who have been killed or gone missing? Why aren't Black kids referred to as "smart," "educated," "kind," "full of potential," and "good," even when they make mistakes?

Referring to young Black males as "men" gives these cops the justification to rough them up for police and the justice system to solely place responsibility on Black kids for their crimes, the same way one would for an adult offender.

I have a hard time listening to Darren Wilson's pity-party-of-one interview with ABC News. The same height as Michael Brown, with Brown only 92 pounds heavier (and 10 years younger), Wilson cries that he "felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan," and adds more insult to injury by also referring to Brown as a "demon," "it," and a big "man."

Wilson's language reflects generalizations of Black men: scary, demonizing, and beastly creatures that grunt, lunge, and attack "civilized" people like Wilson. Wilson's excuses reflect the historical argument that white men and the state used to justify lynching: that Black men are dangerous brutes that whites need protection from.

What Wilson's greatest mistake is, like Loehmann, is that these are pathetic, overused stereotypes to describe Black men. If children are typically generalized as innocent by the public, and yet black children are considered devilish dogs that need to be put down with bullets, clearly, the issue does not lie with the children -- it lies with the people who decide that some children's lives are more valuable than others.

It makes it easier on cops to kill a Black child if they think of him as a Black man.

If parents get arrested for spanking children when they misbehave, how can it be justified that young children have their lives ended for not listening to an officer? How can they shoot to kill children? If being surrounded by cops is an intimidating experience for adults, wouldn't a less predictable response be assumed for children? Tie in a Black child, who's tired of run-ins or rough-ups with cops who are looking for ways to pass the time, and you end up with a mouthy kid who bruises a white cop's ego. And well, since it's not his kid, and Black kids are all destined to be nothing in life, a good shot to the chest or head would end his misery early, right?

This is not an over-exaggeration. This is a very real possibility for many of us. The Toronto Star analysis of updated Toronto Police Services carding data found that carding decreased 75 per cent from July 2013, yet the amounts of cards issued to Blacks increased from 23.3 to 27.4 per cent. This is 3.4 times more than Toronto's Black population. Those identified as "white" decreased.

Worse, the data showed that that Black males between the ages of 15-24 were documented at a rate 13 times more than what they represent in the general population, and a rate 2.5 times higher than young white males.

This is not just a young male problem -- Black young females are being targeted, too. In May 2010, seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed by white cop Joseph Weekley of Detroit Police Department's Special Response Team during a raid. Tarika Wilson was killed and her one-year-old baby shot in her arms by police looking for her boyfriend. Darnesha Harris was 17 when a cop was "forced to pull the trigger." No officers have suffered long-term repercussions.

In essence, carrying anything and being Black will get you killed these days. Perhaps instead of DWB ("Driving while Black"), we need "Living While Black," because it seems to be an increasing struggle to do anything without getting killed -- even for children. How nice to have the luxury to live out your childhood. How nice that Darren Wilson's new baby will never have to worry about playing with toy-weapons, or walking home alone at night, or carrying Skittles in their pocket, or exhaustively yelling at white men to leave them alone, without fear of death. How nice to not be a predetermined target.

I can't help but think about what would have happened if I were alone in that mall, excitedly loading my fake gun, not knowing the implications of my actions. Would I be on the dirty ground, labouring for breath face down as I bled out? Would I be arrested by cops as strangers looked on, shaking their heads at me?

Worse, I think about that situation if it had been in 2014, especially in America. I think it would go something like this: "Breaking news, a disgruntled Black woman was shot at mall in a high-risk area after 9-1-1 complaints that the woman was pointing her gun at nearby shoppers. The weapon was found to be a toy gun from the Dollar store across from where she was killed."

Starting to sound familiar?

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