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As I draft out this article, it’s Monday, December 28, 2015. The date is important. It’s the day that a grand jury failed to indict officers that shot 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, within 2 minutes of arriving on the scene. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun. Sad day, little homie couldn’t even get an indictment. I’m not even talking about a verdict, just the process to investigate what happened in front of a jury.

It made me think back to when I was about 19 or 20. The year is either 2002 or 03. I was visiting my old neighborhood, North Oakland. Here’s one story of many that I think I should share with the world.

I grew up on 54th & Gaskill, a block from San Pablo Avenue. I grew up a street away from my homie, Will. Most folks that know us regard as brothers. My cousin lived one block over on 53rd & Gaskill. In this story, he’ll only be referred to as my cousin. It’ll make more sense as the story goes on. I used to live in his basement when my parents were kicking their drug habit.

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Black smiles. Something we don’t see enough of in the media. Maybe folks wouldn’t be as afraid of us if they saw more of these photos.

Back to the story. Will was on leave from the Army. He’d just completed basic training, and this is right before he was meant to do his first tour in Iraq. I was in undergrad just a few cities over so we naturally wanted to hang out in our old neighborhood, something we still do today. None of us knew the next time we’d get a chance to see each other again. At this point in my life, I was in full-on school mode. Graduating from college was the only thing I was focused on, so I didn’t make it back home often or kick it in the North with my friends. I was trying to keep my head above water in a new environment. Bear in mind, I was the first in my family to sniff a university.

At the time, I had this off-white ’79 Toyota Corona Wagon that I got from my parents. It was gloriously hood too. A stick shift that struggled to get up the steep hill to my university. I had two 12-inch subwoofers in the back with a custom box. My stereo had a cassette player, so I had to get the tape attachment that let me hook up my portable cd player through the deck. The car was a beater, but I kept her clean. I added seat covers and the leather wrap around the steering wheel – you know the one where you had to wrap the leather string around the wheel to hold it all together. There was always a fresh tree hanging from the rearview mirror to keep the car smelling fresh. Also, not too many people from my neighborhood has their license, let alone a car so I was stuntin’. As a side hustle, I sold mix cd’s so I kept a ton of music in the car. There was this huge black binder of cd’s under the driver’s seat at all times. The point is, I was the one driving us to our destination. Excuse the nostalgia.

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Not the exact car but a perfect replica photo.

The three of us finally link up. We all pile up in ‘The Wagon’. You have three black men that grew up together as small children linking up after not seeing each other for over a year. We genuinely missed each other but since society doesn’t teach nor allow Black men to process and communicate feelings, we showed each other love the way we knew to best, we cracked jokes on each other. Will only had a few days left before he had to leave the States. He was one of our best friends who was on his way to fight in a war – a REAL WAR. Will just completed the final phase of his new career path and his next stop was a hostile environment where he’d eventually be in an endless number of gun battles and lose newfound friends because that’s what happens in war. We told him we loved him and was afraid for him in the only way our environment taught us — we talked about his mama and his outfit, and he gave it all right back to us. It was a great time.

We hit San Pablo Avenue and I get over to make a left turn on Stanford Avenue so we can hit the bridge that takes us into Emeryville and our ultimate destination of the Public Market to buy burritos or whatever it was that we ate there.

First we see lights.

Then we hear the quick blips of a siren.

Not the entire revolution of what sirens sound like, just the blips. The cop knew we knew what that meant.

Apparently I didn’t signal as I entered the left lane to make my turn. It’s ok, though, because I’m clean. Mr. Cole didn’t ride dirty at all; I leave that up to UGK, son – rest in peace, Pimp C! My paperwork is always right. So it’s just an annoyance but no huge deal. I mean I got pulled over a lot. It comes with the energy attached to my skin. I’ve made my peace with it. As we turn the corner to pull over, my cousin had an announcement to make. It was a rather important announcement…

Cousin: Aye, I gotta tell Y’all something. 

Me: What, blood (because in Oakland in the early 2000s we referred to each other that way)? 

Cousin: I got fo’ rocks in my mouf! [Translation for those of you that have no idea what that means. fo = four, Rocks = crack rocks. Together that means he has four pieces of rocked up cocaine in his mouth.]

Me & Will: $^(%&$(& (%&%#&$)!!!!!&%*O8@$^*@*@

Will: Aight, shut up, here comes the officer.

I was taught in high school by my driver’s ed teacher that as a Black man, I needed to take the keys out of the ignition, toss them on the dashboard and put both hands out of the car. I still do that, by the way. The officer walks up to our car, and as he is asking if I know why he pulled us over, he looks in the backseat, recognizes my cousin and addresses him by name. BY NAME! Will and I look at each other with a look that says we’re all about to go downtown and be pegged as drug kingpins of North Oakland. I want you all to experience what we experienced…

Officer: [Cousin’s Real Name], is that you?

Cousin: Yeah, man.

Me: [Under my breath] This negro here, man…

Officer: You staying out of trouble? 

Cousin: Trying to. 

Officer: [Stares at my cousin]

The officer ran my registration and insurance. He came back and let us go. The officer leaves, my cousin leans forward in between Will and me and asks if we are still going to grab food like nothing happened. We were livid, and my cousin seemed to be confused as to why. We didn’t have the words at the moment. There were just a lot of curse words and a near fight.

What we were processing was the following. Will was a soldier in the United States Army. This is the life choice he made. He committed to it and if any of this got back to his unit he was done. I was a college student receiving federal aid in both grants and loans. Anything concerning illegal drugs will bar your ability to solicit federal support. That means bye bye grants, bye bye loans. My cousin was on probation meaning that everyone in his party was subject to a pat-down.

If a pat-down happens and my cousin is found with crack or if he stashed it in my car then Charles and Will are back in North Oakland, stuck. If that happens, Will doesn’t become a decorated soldier with a ton of accolades that served three separate tours. Will would not have been part of the team that brought down one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. Will isn’t the amazing father and husband he is today and the coach of his son’s AAU Basketball team if we get arrested that day. His wife and children don’t receive his Army benefits if something happens to him.

If the rocks are found on my cousin or stashed in my car, then I don’t graduate from college and become a dedicated social worker. I don’t end up working with young people or writing these articles for young Black men. If we end up on the curb in cuffs, I don’t get to help hundreds of students get into college. I don’t build a national voice that sounds like them from a man that looks like them because he came from where they come from. I am not a young Black man dedicating his life to the people of Oakland whether it be education, mentoring or politics. My cousin didn’t understand that.

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Will and me last year having dinner.

A few years later, in a botched robbery attempt, my cousin was shot multiple times with one in the face. He drove himself to hospital. I remember getting there a little after his surgery. The wounds on his face were still fresh. He went to the clink, got out and went back. Still got love for my flesh and blood. You had three young Black men in this crazy situation but the craziest thing of all, none of us were thinking that we’d be murdered by a cop at that moment. According to our current climate, according to America, I should be dead.

Young Tamir Rice will not be able to grow up and tell the story of that one time he had a crazy encounter. That kid doesn’t get to grow up and become a man. He doesn’t get to add value to the world and live to see that impact.

So, I’ll finish this how I started:
As I draft out this article, it’s Monday, December 28, 2015. The date is important. It’s the day that a grand jury failed to indict officers that shot 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, within 2 minutes of arriving on the scene. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun. Sad day, little homie couldn’t even get an indictment. I’m not even talking about a verdict, just the process to investigate what happened in front of a jury.

Welcome to America in 2016. RIP Tamir Rice. He was 12. He had a toy.

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Charles Cole

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