Lately, for reasons both devastatingly obvious and simply unexplainable, I have been interested in the question of time — its density and its elusiveness, how uncontainable it seems. Being black has amplified this curiosity, especially in recent years, as the lives of black girls and boys, men and women like Shereese Francis, Michael Brown, Dontre Hamilton, Freddie Gray, and Korryn Gaines were swiftly and unjustly cut short via state-enacted terror.
The 2014 Cleveland-area shooting of Tamir Rice has remained especially troubling for me. He was all of 12 years old and robbed of his life in two seconds. “This court is thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly,” Judge Ronald B. Adrine stated in a court document. “The relevant portion covers 18 seconds immediately preceding the point where Tamir Rice suffers the wound, doubles-up and falls to the ground. On the video, the Zone Car containing Patrol Officers [Timothy] Loehmann and [Frank] Garmback is still in the process of stopping when Rice is shot.”
For boys like Rice and Jordan Edwards, the unarmed 15-year-old Texas freshman who was gunned down by police on April 29 while leaving a party in Balch Springs, time is a gruesome paradox: the minutes, days, weeks, months, and years promised are a fragile illusion. They are markers of time survived, of time not yet taken.
Even when you do everything right and play by the rules of the white world, the senseless ruin of history in which you were born into still swallows your body whole.
The details surrounding Edwards’s death are as unimaginably horrifying as they are regular: an unarmed black child with remarkable promise is shot dead. “He was everybody’s friend,” Jeff Fleener, Edwards’s football coach, told the New York Times. “His attitude and smile, everything was just contagious about him. He was excellent — 3.5 G.P.A., never in trouble, no attendance issues. He was a kid that did everything right.”
Again, the gruesome paradox of time reveals its face: even when you do everything right and play by the rules of the white world — getting good grades and making the honor roll, being a more-than-decent son, brother, and friend — the senseless ruin of history in which you were born into still swallows your body whole. That is, ruin brought on by people like Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann and Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver, who thought themselves the most suitable shepherds of these young boys’ fates.
There is a tired cliche that has, for generations, been placed upon black identity (sometimes which, deservedly so, is self-inflicted). Colored People’s Time, or CP Time as it is colloquially referred to, is a long-running joke in which black people are, for one reason or another, always late. We can’t ever seem to arrive on time: be it to a family event, a friend’s birthday celebration, or a work-related affair. As stories about kids like Jordan Edwards, ones of robbed dreams and bullet-riddled endings, continue to stream across our social feeds and iPhone screens, I’m beginning to wonder if time is actually a kind of inheritance, something passed down only to a privileged color of people. It raises the question: how can we ever go about our daily lives free of terror, death, and displacement, if time, the very thing black people are trying to grasp, was never ours to have in the first place?