I was in the lobby of the Ace — a boutique hotel that opened its doors this month in East Liberty (the Pittsburgh neighborhood I grew up in) — meeting with activist and educator Liana Maneese. We were meeting to discuss her new project — Adopting Identity, which is described on its website as “a movement that exists first and foremost for the self-liberation of people of color raised in multiracial families” — and potential creative synergies with 1839.
This was my second meeting at the Ace yesterday. Earlier, I met a friend for lunch at Whitfield, also located in the Ace’s lobby, to discuss her personal statement for a fellowship she was applying for. I chose the Ace for both meetings because, well, it was easier than having to travel to two separate locations for a 12:30 lunch and a meeting scheduled for 1:30. But mainly because I wanted to finally enter this trendy new space that recently entered my old hood; perhaps the 17th or the 37th (I’ve lost count) trendy new space to open in East Lib in the past decade. And, it met my expectations. I’ve never been to Portland. But I know Portland is one of the few cities where Ace Hotel exists. And this place — both the space itself and the people working and eating in it — felt like it was transplanted from Portlandia. I’ve never said this about anything Pittsburgh-related before, but I didn’t feel hip enough to be there.
Anyway, the work meeting was briefly interrupted when Liana excused herself from the table for a moment to speak to a friend she’d just spotted in the lobby. I took that time to check my phone for emails and texts. I also checked Twitter, and saw that Tamir Rice’s name was the top trending topic. I clicked his name and learned there’d be no charges for Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland patrolman who killed the 12-year-old while he was playing with a pellet gun in a park last year. While announcing the decision and his explaining his rationale for it, Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, called the encounter “a perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications.”
When Liana got back to the table, I asked if she’d heard about this news yet. She hadn’t. And then, after we both shook our heads in quasi-disbelief — it wasn’t real disbelief because this news was very and inescapably believable — she said “I guess you don’t have a shortage of shitty things to write about, huh?”
I told her that I was going stay away from writing about this. That I was on a bit of a vacation, and that all the work I’d publish this week would be light in tone.
Obviously, this was a lie. I did not intend for it to be, though. When I said that I believed it to be true and I intended on following through. Because yes, I did want to take a week or so to give my brain an opportunity to recharge and refresh. Between the birth of my daughter, the holidays, and work commitments (old and new) it’s been an especially busy month. But mostly because, if I did write about Tamir Rice, I did not know how I’d distinguish it from what I’ve already written about Tamir Rice. And Sandra Bland. And Eric Garner. And Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. And Sam DuBose. And Freddy Gray. And Laquan McDonald. Every relevant angle — at least every relevant angle I have the capacity to follow — has already been taken. Every tonal adjustment — words used and phrases constructed to convey sobriety or sadness or outrage or disbelief — has already been incorporated. Even the feelings felt when writing this would be facsimiles of feelings already felt. Because this just keeps happening. And my reactions to these happenings feel increasingly pointless. Valueless. After the 28th Aiyana Stanley-Jones or the 52nd Jordan Davis, my 28th and 52nd responses become so perfunctory that it starts to cross over into vanity. Because my writing about this is clearly not doing anything other than inspiring people to tell me how powerful my words are. And, occasionally, offer me money to write more words. It does not prevent police-involved killings or any measure of police brutality. But it does generate retweets.
So we continued the meeting. And Liana and I sat in that hotel lobby; one of the four or five people of color in a space filled with 30 to 40 of the hippest and trendiest White people in Pittsburgh. All eating and drinking and reading and working and laughing while existing in a hip and trendy place created specifically for them. And I thought about how they’d never know what it was like to be a citizen of a country where the legally-sanctioned killing of a 12-year-old who looked like and very easily could have been you is so commonplace that the responses to it start to feel rote. Sure, they would (and likely already have) experience loss and sadness. Those are inextricable parts of the human experience. But knowing how you looked when you were 12 years old, and having a 12-year-old doppelganger of the 12-year-old you’s life taken by your own government, and having that theft be both legally justified and so familiar that it’s foundational, is an experience they will not experience.
When the meeting was over, I got back on the internet to see what people were saying about the decision not to charge Timothy Loehmann in the death of the 12-year-old Tamir Rice. My digital world — my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed, particularly — was filled with Rice-related commentary. Most of it angry or astonished or exasperated or some combination of all three. And then I decided that I would write about this. Not because it would have a tangible effect on the frequency of these police-involved killings of young Black people. Because, again, it won’t. But because Tamir Rice was 12 years old. And he most likely did not have the words or the means or the platform to express how his life and his existence was so starkly different than the lives and the existences of the patrons of the Ace Hotel yesterday afternoon. And the Americans who exist in a reality where the death of Tamir Rice is so far removed from it that it doesn’t even merit a mention. A single thought.
And, even if he had the words and the means and the platform to articulate that dichotomy, he is dead, so he no longer has the opportunity.
But I do.