To Tamir

I'm sorry you're dead, Tamir. I'm sorry that playing with a pellet gun got you shot by a policeman. I used to play with pellet guns, too. My friend had them. We'd take them out into the yard at his house. There was one that looked fake, and one that looked like a real pistol. We shot at birds on power lines, but never hit one. I think I'd have been sad if I did. We shot at trees and signs, solid things that made the round silver pellets ping and pew. We didn't think about what it looked like, one skinny kid and one chubby kid toting gun-like guns near some houses, pointing them and shooting them. We weren't afraid.

I'm sorry you should have been afraid. Little boys have played with toy guns as long as I can remember. That's what you were, you know: a little boy. Twelve feels grown-up to a twelve-year-old, but I can say you're a little boy because I'm an adult. I was a little boy once, so I remember. Before you died, you weren't afraid to play in a park, wander about looking at whatever little boys look at on the ground, point your pellet gun at imaginary targets, sit at a picnic table and pass the time.

I wish you had been afraid, even though that's not right. It's wrong to wish one group of people have more fear and take extra care just for their safety, even if it's just because you want them safe. It's more that I wish you'd lived in a world where little black boys didn't have to be afraid of that kind of thing. I wish that I knew what it was like to be you. I was a little white boy in rural Alabama, so it was different. You'd have realized that if you'd grown up. Maybe you knew it already.

I watched the video. I saw you gather up the slushy snow, pad it together and send it into the air. You watched it sink to the earth and splat lazily on the sidewalk. I watched you step on the flattened pile, and I imagined the muffled crunch of ice and powder beneath your boots. I did that kind of thing, too, at your age. Then I watched a car roll up and a man jump out and gun you down, like in a gangster movie. But this was a police car rolling up, and a police man jumping out, and it was very real. You died, and I grieve about that. Lots of people do.

I wish you had more afternoons to point your pellet gun at trees and signs and power lines, more days to sit and be bored at a table, more days to look at worms in a sidewalk puddle. But you're dead, and now I wish for justice for you. I wish that all would see you as a boy, a child of God, an unjust death in an unjust world. And I wish they'd do something about it. But mostly, I wish you were still alive, Tamir. I wish wishing were enough.