Guest columnist Milo Douglas: I lived and Tamir Rice died

  • In this Nov. 25, 2014, file photo, demonstrators block Public Square in Cleveland during a protest over the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.  AP

Published: 6/29/2020 10:27:59 AM

If I weren’t white, I might have been killed.

In middle school, my friends and I would wage war with airsoft guns in a remote patch of woods filled with rusted-out farm equipment. The guns sprayed plastic BBs, and we wore face masks and several layers of sweatshirts to prevent welts when we were hit. One of our parents would drop us off by the woods and pick us up after, to avoid us spooking the neighbors by walking around with realistic weaponry.

We spent many weekends in those woods, army-crawling through ferns in the spring and trudging knee-deep through waves of snow during the New England winter. It seemed like harmless, good fun, and battling outside certainly beat the excitement of being cooped up inside playing war-themed video games.

After one such skirmish, however, we were unable to arrange a ride back home from the woods, and our platoon of five early adolescent soldiers was forced to make the half-mile trip back home by foot. We packed what we could of our airsoft guns, BBs, and masks into a ski bag. But one rifle — a long black sniper with a scope — was too long to fit. Airsoft guns are supposed to have an orange tip attached to the end of their barrel; ours didn’t. Based on its outward appearance, nothing indicated that this gun did not fire bullets.

I carried the rifle in the open air while my friends lugged the rest of the equipment, as we made the trek up the dusty backroad and down the town’s quaint main street. Just as we had turned onto the lane where my friend lived, a police car veered around the corner and stopped by the side of the road behind us. Having mistaken my airsoft rifle for the real deal, the officer drew his pistol and yelled at us to put down our weapons.

We lay down the guns and repeatedly told the officer that the weapons were fake. Thankfully, the officer listened and soon holstered his pistol. The policeman said that he would call our parents about this incident and gave us a two-minute lecture on safety before sending us on our way. That was the extent of our encounter.

I know the fact that we were all white and in a town home to three exclusive private schools gave us the benefit of the doubt from the police officer and allowed us to deescalate the situation without anyone being punished— let alone harmed.

On Nov. 22, 2014, around a year after my own run-in with the police, a Black 12-year-old named Tamir Elijah Rice was shot dead at point-blank range by a Cleveland police officer responding to a call about a black man wielding a pistol. Tamir’s “pistol” was fake; like my own airsoft gun, it was a lifelike replica that shot plastic pellets.

The parallels between my own story and Rice’s are striking, yet the outcomes of our encounters with the police could not have been more different. Rice and I were both boys in middle school wielding fake weapons that were mistaken for real ones. But unlike me, his perceived dangerousness as a Black male meant that he was not afforded the opportunity to explain the situation to the white police officers who responded. The officer who killed Rice fired at him within two seconds of arriving on the scene.

Tamir Rice was murdered by the police. My friends and I walked away unscathed. The officer never even bothered to call our parents.

Sadly, my story is hardly unique; there are countless instances where police intervention is a death sentence for a black person while a white person in the same circumstance receives a slap on the wrist. Eric Garner was killed for selling untaxed cigarettes. George Floyd was killed for paying with a counterfeit $20 bill.

Whether change is achieved through defunding, restructuring, or outright disbanding police forces, one thing is certain: the double standard that cost Tamir Rice his life and let me and my friends off the hook cannot stand.

Milo Douglas is a Sunderland native and junior studying history and economics at Brown University.




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