BY MARY FRANCES MCGOWAN | February 3, 2016
Today’s post was written by ISN intern Mary Frances McGowan ’17. Mary Frances is double majoring in communications and political science at John Carroll University in the greater Cleveland area, where she also serves as managing editor of The Carroll News, the university’s newspaper.
Two seconds was all it took.
On that still, stark afternoon, a young boy named Tamir Rice went outside to play on Cleveland’s West Side. Like me, you might wonder what his thoughts were in the final minutes of his life.
As he played with his toy gun, did he feel powerful—a feeling that young boys who looked like him and lived where he lived seldom felt? As he paced the park alone, was he feeling the first tremors of a middle school crush on a girl at school? Did he imagine the way she smiled at him, the way she let him borrow her pencil in class? Did he dream of the man he wanted to become, the career he wanted to have? Or did he think of his mother, about how she worried for him out of her ceaseless maternal love?
Those unknown reveries were likely replaced with confusion and terror as a Cleveland Police squad car barreled onto the grass next to him that day. Less than two seconds after the officer left the car—hardly enough time for a still developing mind to process the situation—Tamir Rice was fatally shot in the abdomen, and any dreams that once filled his head went dark.
This summer, I looked square in the eyes at the pain caused by Tamir Rice’s death. While working as an intern for Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (the congressional representative for the Cleveland area), I talked to constituents who were absolutely heartbroken for their community and frustrated by government leaders’ lack of action. Of course, the police brutality and violence they faced was nothing new. While the rest of the city was just waking up to instances of police brutality, it had been their reality for years. The death of Tamir, though, reopened old wounds in an unexpectedly visceral way.
For four months, I met Cleveland community members who were shaken and frustrated, even void of hope at times. It did not take long for their pain to become my pain. As I drove home each day, I was sick to my stomach knowing that my brothers and sisters in East Cleveland were living in fear as I fell asleep peacefully. I felt that Tamir’s death was completely unnecessary and that his life, and so many other unnamed lives, could have been saved. Even now, I feel the weight of my experiences this summer pressing deep into my bones. And with each new report that there will be no repercussions for Tamir’s death, my heart sinks even more.
As Lent approaches—bringing with it the Ignatian call to “lift every voice” for racial justice—I am reminded that Tamir and others like him who fell to police brutality can no longer speak for themselves. On the day the city of Cleveland and our nation learned that the police officers who killed Tamir would not be indicted, I wasn’t surprised, but deeply saddened. My eyes glazed over as I watched county prosecutors on television reenacting the situation as if they were Tamir himself, using toy guns to try and explain away “the perfect storm of human error.”
While greater numbers of public officials and citizens alike are coming to grips with systematic racism in the United States, it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with those who are caught in the cycle of oppression. When our Jesuit tradition tells us to uphold the dignity of all human beings, it is our duty to challenge the American mindset that says some lives are worth protecting, and others aren’t. Tamir was a human being—a child—who was stripped of his life and future in a way that suggested that his life did not matter. It is time that my city and our country acknowledge that Tamir’s life did matter, and that deaths like his are never excusable. The dead cannot speak for themselves, so we must ensure they are heard.
Mary Frances is a junior at John Carroll University, double majoring in Journalism and Political Science. Mary Frances has been involved in several social justice activities during her undergraduate career thus far, including working as an citizenship test tutor at US Together refugee center, serving as a founding member of the JCU Workers’ Rights Committee, and attending an immersion trip to Immokalee, Florida. At John Carroll, she is the Managing Editor of The Carroll News and a member of Kappa Delta sorority. Outside of JCU, Mary Frances has worked for Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge as in intern for the press secretary. After she graduates, Mary Frances hopes put her Jesuit education to work by pursing a career in investigative journalism that focuses on domestic poverty issues.