I didn’t know who Nicholas Heywood Jr was. Not really. I had heard his name raised up in demonstrations and marches for Mike Brown, Eric Garner. I had seen posters with his photograph and was saddened by the youthful, smiling face staring back at me, a smile that I understood had been brutally extinguished.
But I had never truly contemplated who Nicholas was, this boy who had been snatched from his family. Exactly how, and exactly where, and exactly when, was Nicholas’s smile extinguished?
Yesterday, we marched. The march was for 12-year old Tamir Rice, to remember and demand accountability for what happened exactly one year ago, when Tamir was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland, OH park and two police officers shot Tamir within two seconds of their arrival. The boy fell. No first aid was administered. Tamir died the following day.
As we marched for Tamir, Nicholas Heywood Jr’s name was invoked, and Nicholas Heywood Jr’s smiling photo was held up.
But I still didn’t know who Nicholas Heywood Jr had been. Exactly how, and exactly when, his boyish grin had been brutally extinguished.
Until we marched to the park, just outside the Gowanus Brooklyn housing project where Nicholas had lived, and where Nicholas had been murdered, 21 years ago.
And then Nicholas’s father, Nicholas Heywood Sr, spoke to us. He told us how, in sight from where we stood, his 13-year old boy had been shot in the stomach by a NYC housing cop, while he had been playing cops and robbers (with plastic guns that had brightly colored orange tips and handles) in the stairwell of his apartment building with his friends. He spoke a little about his boy–who his boy had been. About how the smile that had been extinguished had completely devastated a family. Nicholas Heywood Sr’s grief was still raw. His pain was palpable–even before he broke down and cried.
Nicholas Heywood Jr would be a 34-year old man right now–but police officers (and the system they represent) saw him not as a child, but as a threat.
Tamir Rice would be a 13-year old adolescent right now–but police officers (and the system they represent) saw him not as a child, but as a threat.
It shouldn’t even need to be said–it should be so basic, so understood, so obvious. It should be ridiculous to even have to say it. These statements that Black children matter. That their lives matter. That they are not the enemy, that they are not threats. That they are children. Children. Children.
And yet…it needs to be said, and not only said, but shouted, screamed, demanded. Protested for, cities-shut-down-for. Because we are without Tamir Rice. We are without Nicholas Heywood Jr. We are without Aiyana Stanley Jones. Going back further in time (because the murders of these Black children are inextricably linked to previous murders of Black children) we are also without Emmett Till, murdered by lynching in 1955 at the age of 14, we are also without George Stinney, murdered by electric chair in 1944, also at the age of 14.
Black children matter. Such a basic statement–but one that demands the entire restructuring of our society, a society which is built on the premise that only certain lives matter, and other lives are dispensable. That’s why this very basic statement is actually revolutionary. Because the realization of this statement entails dismantling the very structure of our society, a society which is built on the premise that only certain lives matter, and others are dispensable.
This statement that they were children. Children. Children. Whose lives mattered.