Don't Shoot

Happy Birthday

In a few weeks, I turn 20. People keep telling me how young I am— how my life is just beginning. But today I can’t help but feel keenly how old I am— how many more years my life has had than millions of lives do.

How many Syrian refugees died before they had to use both hands to count their age? How many Iraqi, Thai, and Congolese children died soldiers before they lost their baby fat? How many Yemeni and Somali children will waste away of malnutrition without ever learning to walk? How many Afghani and Nigerian girls died giving birth to a child while themselves still children? How many trans teenagers in the United States ended their lives before their adolescence ended?

To them, my life has been eons already. By their metrics, I am ancient. I am acutely conscious of the privileges I have as a fluke of my birth that conspired to keep me alive here today rather than in a grave as small as theirs.

A month ago, Jordan Edwards was shot to death by a police officer in Dallas, TX as he drove away from a party. He was only 15 years old.

I am almost 5 years older than he will ever be. But because my body is not Black and male, here I sit. The number of unarmed Black men killed by police is so incredibly high, it is numbing. The number of lives cut short by police brutality is almost unfathomable. The number of birthdays lost to violence because a Black man’s unarmed body was seen as inherently too dangerous to exist is staggering.

How many unarmed Black boys’ and men’s lives were cut brutally short by police before they even left their teenage years?

  • Tamir Rice was killed at age 12 in Cleveland, OH (11/22/2014).
  • Tyre King was killed at age 13 in Columbus, OH (9/14/2016).
  • Laquan McDonald was killed at age 17 in Chicago, IL (10/20/2014).
  • David Joseph was killed at age 17 in Chicago, IL (2/8/2016).
  • Michael Brown was killed at age 18 in Ferguson, MO (8/9/2014).
  • Paterson Brown was killed at age 18 in Richmond, VA (10/17/2015).
  • Tony Robinson was killed at age 19 in Madison, WI (3/6/2015).
  • Keith McLeod was killed at age 19 in Reisterstown, MD (9/23/2015).
  • Christian Taylor was killed at age 19 in Arlington, TX (8/7/2015).
  • Dalvin Hollins was killed at age 19 in Tempe, AZ (7/27/2016).
  • Dyzhawn Perkins was killed at age 19 in Buckingham County, VA (2/13/2016).

The number of candles on their birthday cakes will never increase to more than mine. How can I not feel too old?

And in none of these instances will the police officer who cut their lives abruptly short be charged with a crime.

And what about the many lives which existed for only a few years beyond 20?

  • Terrance Kellom was killed at age 20 in Detroit, MI (4/27/2015).
  • Zamiel Crawford was killed at age 21 in Leeds, AL (6/20/2015).
  • Christopher J. Davis was killed at age 21 in Milwaukee, WI (2/24/2016).
  • John Crawford was killed at age 22 in Dayton, OH (8/5/2014).
  • Christopher Kimble was killed at age 22 in East Cleveland, OH (10/3/2015).
  • Vernell Bing, Jr. was killed at age 22 in Jacksonville, FL (5/22/2016).
  • Deravis Caine Rogers was killed at age 22 in Atlanta, GA (6/22/2016).
  • Levonia Riggins was killed at age 22 in Hillsborough County, FL (8/30/2016).
  • Sean Bell was killed at age 23 in Queens, NY (11/25/2006).
  • Albert Davis was killed at age 23 in Orlando, FL (7/17/2015).
  • Calin Roquemore was killed at age 24 in Longview, TX (2/13/2016).
  • Ariel Denkins was killed at age 24 in Raleigh, NC (2/29/2016).
  • Kevin Judson was killed at age 24 in McMinnville, OR (7/1/2015).
  • Ezell Ford was killed at age 25 in Florence, CA (8/11/2014).
  • Freddie Gray was killed at age 25 in Baltimore, MD (4/19/2015).

By a fluke of my birth, I was born into this body in these circumstances in this place with these opportunities and privileges, and so here I sit. But by a fluke of their birth, they weren’t given the same privileges as I was.

And that’s not even counting the thousands— the millions— of people whose lives may not be over, but who through a fluke of their birth were not given the opportunities and privileges by which their lives could flourish.

I just earned my undergraduate degrees; I’m going to law school in the fall. How many people could have been world-class lawyers or doctors or engineers or politicians transforming our society but who weren’t given the opportunity to complete their education? Who were put in underfunded school systems that didn’t have the funds or resources to provide a quality education? Who had to drop out of high school? Who couldn’t afford college tuition? Who are so desperately living paycheck-to- paycheck so their children can one day go to school even though they harbor no hopes of themselves seeing a degree in their name?

When I think about the opportunities I’ve been given in almost 20 years that some people are never given their entire lives, I can’t help but think that perhaps the standards we use to measure if someone’s life is “just beginning” are just lies— cold comfort so we don’t have to think too hard about the way our life could have been if not by a fluke of our birth. And the more I think about those names and those dates, I just remember how old I am. Happy birthday.

  • Stacy Mergenthal

    I too think about those young people every time one of my children passes a milestone. I am also thinking about those young grade school children who were gunned down by a killer with his mom’s guns nearly every time I send my children off to school–especially because we reside in a gun extremist state. I am glad people like you have the opportunity to shape the future. It doesn’t make me any less heartbroken over the ones whose opportunities were violently stolen but you remind me that we can act to help prevent future thefts.

    Congratulations on your excellent academic achievements.