Why the killing of Tamir Rice hurts so bad.

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer. He had been playing in a park with a pellet gun. When police arrived on the scene, they shot Rice almost instantaneously.

On Dec. 28, 2015, a grand jury decided not to indict the police officers involved.


Rice's death comes in the wake of other cases of police violence — from Michael Brown in Ferguson to Eric Garner in New York. And it's a reminder of a harsh reality: In 2015, black men made up only 6% of the population but constituted 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by police.

We asked Stacia Brown to share her reaction — "For Tamir, Who Was Stolen" — with Upworthy’s readers today.

A protester holds a photo of Tamir Rice in Washington, D.C., in December 2014. Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AP.

The first thing I am pocketing is your name. Tamir, like something uttered in prayer.

We will all be saying it so much in the days to come, it will sound like a chorus of hushes in a holy place, a sacrifice, not of praise but of sorrow. I'm drawing it close to me — the sound of it on my lips, now, before all our commentary turns you into a cause, foreign and distant.

I’ve become adept at this, arriving at the scene early, committing key details to memory. After I turned your name — Tamir — over on my tongue, I Googled it. It means tall or owner of dates or palm tree or wealthy.

Your father says you were, in fact, tall for your age.

You were also wealthy in the ways that wind up mattering: spirit, intellect, creativity. 12 years old and already embodying the meaning of your name.

I will need to remember this, and it won’t be hard. I'm sure you had heard of the boys and the girls before you, all gone before their time. I am sure that, by 12, you may’ve had some sense that cops aren't kind to black boys who are tall for their age.

I have a system for marking tragedies like yours.

I've taken to following your mothers on Twitter, checking your siblings’ Instagram accounts, listening to your fathers’ interviews, all for more insight into you. I sigh with strangers, cry with strangers, and try to conjure you as someone three-dimensional, someone whose breath I can imagine feeling on the back of my neck as you laugh raucously with friends, sitting behind me on a city bus.

You need to remain real for me, Tamir, because you were real and you were 12. And you had every right to reach adulthood, marveling that you made it.

We all marvel at where we wind up when we’re grown. We think:

I could’ve been pulled over by a cop while on a date with a guy who had a gun or weed in his glove compartment.

I could’ve been asleep in my living room as SWAT raided the wrong black family’s house (or the right one’s).

I could’ve been whiling away an afternoon in my yard or at a playground, like you were, when cops arrived, ready to shoot.

I could’ve made too little money to live in a safe community.

I could’ve lived in the “safest” community there is and still been black and still been murdered and still been blamed.

I could’ve made bad choices or had my good ones go unrewarded.

This could’ve gone so much worse.

Then we breathe deeply and honor the moment as it is: a better outcome, a sparing, a miracle.

We remember children and women and men like you most acutely in these moments, how maybe you were just minding your business, just daydreaming or playing pretend. Or maybe you were pleading to be seen as someone real.

Maybe your eyes begged: Before you unholster your weapon, look at the nubs of my fingernails.

See how I chew them down till they bleed, how the pads of my fingers puff around them so that it’s hard to pop the tab on a soda can?

Before you disengage the safety, look at scar on my left shin. That’s where I wiped out on my bike when I was 7 and tried not to cry because my boys were watching.

Before you rest your finger on the trigger, look at these waves in my hair. My uncle taught me how to brush along with the grain. Before you shoot, my daddy is around.

Before you shoot, know I make my mama laugh. I am real. It makes me proud to make my mama laugh. I am human. I failed science. I am real. I stole a candy bar once. I am human. I might’ve planned to shoot this BB gun at birds. Before you shot.

We will never know what you were thinking, if you had time to think. We’ll never know exactly how afraid you must’ve been.

You, specifically. Tamir E. Rice, 12-year-old boy who died the day after being shot by police at a playground in Cleveland. You, whose eyes in the first photo released to the public, are soft and kind and so age-appropriately childish, the kind of eyes that couldn’t have known what else to do with a toy gun than play with it.

We will never have the privilege of knowing you as anything other than teary anecdotes, than memories offered up to the court of public opinion as closing arguments.

But God help us if we ever stop imagining you, Tamir.

Have mercy on our souls if we stop trying to resurrect you with vivid, near-futile envisioning. I am touching my hand to the tenor of your name in my pocket. Tamir. I am thinking of you as taller still, as wealthy in the ways that should matter.

You are rich, and you are grown and, now, your eyes are more discerning. But there is still wonder in the glint of them as you marvel over where you’ve wound up.

You think: I could’ve been mistaken for menacing. I could’ve pulled my airsoft pistol in a moment of play, and police may’ve been present, poised to kill me. Wouldn’t that have been wild? Wouldn’t that have been my family’s worst horror?

You think, in your house made of crystalline air, your home in the Great By and By: Thank goodness I live in a world where things like that never happen.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Canva

Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.

For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.

Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less