Psalm 23: A Psalm of Cleveland

LeBron is our shepherd; we shall not want.

He maketh us to scream in amazement: he leadeth us on the banks of Lake Erie.

He restoreth our hope: he leadeth our Cavs in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though we walk through the valley of the Lineup of Death, we will fear no evil: for LeBron is with us; his blocks and assists they comfort us.

He preparest triple-doubles before us in the presence of our enemies: he has anointed our city with championships; our cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives: and we shall dwell in the house of LeBron forever.

Composed by my dad, Joe White, and I in honor of the Miracle at the Oracle.  

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Cleveland, the Beautiful

I’ve had a night’s sleep since The Comeback, and I still don’t quite believe it.

My Defend the Land T-shirt, my 2016 NBA Champs hat — they feel soft and light in my hands. They’re as oversized as all unisex clothing is for 5-foot-2 women. They smell of cotton and capitalism, like such mass-produced items do. Yet a part of me has yet to grasp their realness. I feel like I’m wading through a dream, unusually sharp-focused but no less surreal.

Cleveland won. I believed in the Cavaliers; I believed in my hometown even more. But somehow, those two words ring strange in my ears. Cleveland won. Cleveland won. Cleveland won.

What beautiful new words.

I have visited Venice, Italy and lived in Paris, France. I’ve biked through fields of bright tulips in the Netherlands; I’ve stood in awe in the Sistine Chapel and Chartres. I’ve gazed, squinting, at sparkling desert sands from the top of Masada and down at treetops from the Great Wall of China. I’ve been blessed to experience more beauty and wonder in 19 years than most people see in a lifetime.

But in the past 22 hours, in Cleveland, OH, I have witnessed the greatest beauty thus far.

I spent last night downtown, at the Game Seven watch party in Quicken Loans Arena, with three of my closest friends. I got in line at 5 p.m. for entry; a half-hour later, the line stretched out the Q’s doors and down the street. The doors opened at 6:30 for the 8:00 game. People waiting in line were indistinguishable for the people who simply waited: the thousands of Cavs fans who flooded the Plaza, turned the parking garage into a theater and crowded the streets until Cleveland closed them. About 30,000 Clevelanders — yes, some people came from out of town, but let’s be realistic — became a united, electrified force.

And the game was happening 2,500 miles away.

We remained one force during all four quarters and beyond. Inside the Q, fans screamed as one, creating the loudest sporting event I have ever experienced. We worried together every time a Cavalier fell; we exploded in “M.V.P.” chants for LeBron James in one voice; when the buzzer sounded, we cried shared tears, 52 years in the making. The floor shook underneath us.

After the game — after our King knelt and cried into his hands, after Adam Silver handed Dan Gilbert the gleaming trophy, after my friends and I waited in line for an hour to buy 2016 Championship gear — we headed outside unsure of what we might find. I thought we might walk into a riot; I expected, in fact, smashed cars and scattered fires. And, indeed, there was at least one police car with a shattered windshield. One firetruck got commandeered.

But the biggest danger I faced was stepping on shards of broken beer bottles that littered the ground. I have never felt safer around my fellow Clevelanders than I did last night. Instead of celebrating with violent outbursts, strangers let themselves become siblings. More than a dozen people who I will never see again high-fived my friends and I walking down the street. We chanted expletives together against Steph Curry and Draymond Green anywhere more than three people gathered. We exchanged giddy grins and cheers with one another, dazed with shock and relief, all of us drunk with joy.

This drunken night has no hangover, though. For the first time in my life, Cleveland has a no-strings-attached happy ending. All of today, it’s shimmered in the air: a bliss that a working-class city, full of loyal, driven, tough people, hasn’t experienced in half a century. It’s not that Clevelanders are never happy — we love our city. We have moments both dark and bright, like anyone. But the shared elation embracing Cleveland now is special. I’ve never witnessed something so pure and wondrous in my life.

That is the beauty which so overwhelms me — the greatest I have ever experienced. Lasting joy.

Cleveland won. Cleveland won. Cleveland won. And we’re all smiling during this waking dream.

Dismay, but No Surprise

I wish I was surprised.

Once, I thought America’s justice system fulfilled its duty. I waited for Officer Darren Wilson’s indictment after killing Michael Brown, younger than I am now, under murky circumstances. I felt sure Daniel Pantaleo would face both charges and conviction for choking Eric Garner to death, ignoring the man’s cries of “I can’t breathe.”

Yet in both cases, grand juries declined to indict the officers. The dead men, it seemed, had been too scary — as if their skin and size held them accountable for their demises.

So, in retrospect, I showed too much faith when police violence against black men came to my city. When Officer Timothy Loehmann killed Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old with a toy gun outside Cleveland’s Cudell Recreation Center, I felt a surge of hope. I had faith in Cleveland, in our government and prosecutors, in the city that raised me and the residents who smile so freely on the sidewalk.

I was wrong. Today, more than 13 months after Tamir died Nov. 22, 2014, county prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty announced the officers responsible will face no charges. Neither Loehmann nor his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, who drove the car, will face jail time or even a trial for killing a child.

I am not surprised, but I am dismayed.

I am a young, middle-class white woman. My skin’s hue is remarkably close to printer paper. I stand at an imposing 5-foot-2. I wear clean, modest clothing, mainly sweaters and jeans. No one has ever presumed me guilty of napping in synagogue, let alone of committing a crime.

It’s taken 19 years for me to understand I am lucky in that respect. Growing up, I thought the presumption of innocence applied to all citizens, not just myself. Indeed, that presumption stands true for many Americans — white people; the elderly; women, sometimes; and police officers. But Michael Brown’s, Eric Garner’s and now Tamir Rice’s deaths prove black men do not fall under that category.

Tamir Rice is not dead because he removed the orange safety tab from his toy gun. He is not even dead because a police officer pulled a trigger. He is dead because he was a 5-foot-7 black boy, and our nation’s justice system fails people with dark skin.

The blame does not all fall on Timothy Loehmann. The Cleveland Police Department hired Loehmann despite his record in Independence, where his emotional instability and “dismal” handgun performance forced him to resign before getting fired in 2012. After receiving a concerned call about a juvenile playing with a toy gun Nov. 22, police dispatcher Beth Mandl inaccurately reported a man threatening people with a real weapon. Garmback drove the police car next to Tamir in the park. He and Loehmann grew up in a culture that makes black men suspect because of their skin.

But Loehmann pulled the trigger, as thousands of people saw in the video of Tamir’s death. In that footage, the events that unfolded were clear. Garmback and Loehmann pulled up next to Tamir, straight onto the grass, stopping abruptly. Tamir stood, wary but curious as children so often are, and approached the vehicle. Loehmann all but leapt out of the car, shooting Tamir less than two seconds after the car had stopped. There was no time for the officers to issue a warning; there was no time for Tamir to respond to one. Tamir’s body crumpled, and Loehmann and Garmback did nothing to attend to the boy dying on the ground next to them.

I admit the video does not show clearly whether, after the police car pulled up, Tamir tried to pull his toy gun out of his pocket. Experts hired by the prosecution and Tamir Rice’s family have filed conflicting reports. However, the mere fact experts disagree based on the footage shows the grand jury should have indicted Loehmann and Garmback. The officers are not innocent beyond doubt. The case should have continued to a trial, where a jury could have assessed their actions’ validity in proper depth.

Perhaps even a trial would have failed Tamir Rice. But charging the officers would have given Tamir’s death the consideration it deserves — and, just as importantly, would have shown care for Tamir’s life. Tamir Rice is not just a corpse. Once, he breathed. He began June 25, 2002, tiny and wrinkled. He grew tall, with a goofy grin, during his 12 years. He would have grown taller. He loved his mother and siblings; he borrowed a toy from his friend. He liked art and basketball.

Like you, like me, he lived.

By refusing to indict Loehmann and Garmback, the grand jury has decided not to acknowledge Tamir’s personhood. They have decided Tamir Rice’s life did not matter. They have decided he is only a death, a footnote on two officers’ resumes.

I wish I was surprised.

I wish my faith in Cleveland’s justice system had lasted longer than a few months.

But even I, a middle-class white woman, caught on. For all the reasons I love Cleveland — the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, our abysmal sports teams, my neighbors’ friendliness — we remain an American city, with the endemic prejudice that entails. From the moment he emerged into this country, Tamir Rice did not stand a chance.

In Colleges and Cleveland, One Lethal Similarity

What do 10 college students and three children in Cleveland have in common?

They’re all dead — murdered by gunshots.

The students died yesterday, massacred at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

The children died over the past month. A drive-by shooting killed five-year-old Ramon Burnett Sept. 4, while he played football at his grandmother’s house. Major Howard, three years old, died when gunfire hit the car in which he sat Sept. 15. A girl was shot yesterday while riding in a car, quickly dying from her injuries.

She was six months old.

For all humanity’s faults — and despite Cleveland’s well-known violence — I never thought I would read that headline: “Baby killed in drive-by shooting on Cleveland’s east side.” Then followed so swiftly by another horror: “10 Dead in Shooting at Oregon College, Sheriff Says.”

Every major news outlet, from The New York Times to The Washington Post, has reported on the Oregon shooting. Social media rallied around the cause as well. #UCCShooting is trending on Twitter. Thousands of Facebook posts, angry and grieving, feature the same hashtag.

Dozens of those posts point out America’s epidemical school shootings. Columbine High School in 1999; Virginia Tech in 2007; and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 are probably the best-known tragedies. Yet they are mere blades of grass in a garden, taller than their fellows but far from alone. Since Sandy Hook — Dec. 14, 2012 — at least 142 school shootings have occurred. That’s about one per week.

Broader gun violence statistics spur still more concerns. During President Obama’s second term, not one calendar week has passed without a mass shooting. (No wonder he’s frustrated.) Terrorism killed 3,521 people between 1970 and 2014; nearly 10,000 people have died from gun violence in 2015 already.

Ramon, Major and the baby girl are among those 10,000 — three children no national news outlet wrote about. I only know their stories because I’m from Cleveland. I follow local news sources, such as WKYC and cleveland.com. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have heard of those children. I would never have known they were dead, or what killed them.

There’s just too much death to report. With so much gun violence, news outlets pick and choose— and in a climate as bleak as ours, even infants’ murders don’t make the cut.

If anything, that makes the Oregon shooting more tragic. The 10 college students aren’t standalone victims of rare circumstance — they’re just the people in headlines. Countless other Americans die every day, unknown, for the same reason: our country’s gun control is incomplete and ineffective. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, a large majority of Americans — including gun owners — have supported stronger gun safety policies. Yet dozens of our congressmen have refused to pass any such measures. Instead, they bow to the National Rifle Association and stand by antiquated constitutional readings. The Second Amendment meant to create a citizens’ militia. America spent $610 billion on defense in 2014 — we don’t need a militia anymore.

Looking at other nations, we see visions of how we could live. Other industrialized countries’ gun homicide rates are at least 12 times lower than ours. Germany’s, for instance, is 50 times lower. In 2008, Japan had just 11 gun homicides, while America — like usual — had thousands. Australians grew nervous in 2012, when their gun homicides reached a five-year high — 44 that year.

Those nations have reasonable gun control laws. They protect their citizens, and in doing so, they put us to shame. While we compare ourselves to other countries in plenty of areas — GDP, test scores, life expectancy — we glide over gun control. The stubborn and self-absorbed who sit in Washington don’t want to hear it.

Every congressman who voted against gun safety reform should ache today. Although they pulled no triggers, they contributed to students’ and children’s deaths. Because of their deafness to America’s wants and needs — because of their absent empathy and common sense — some of the blame lies with them. 

Congress could have increased gun regulations, perhaps saving the 10 students killed in Oregon yesterday. Our legislature could have made lethal weapons harder to acquire, which may have given three children from Cleveland the chance to grow up. Instead, as a nation, we mourn yet again — just as we do every month, week and day. On national and local stages, congressmen are seeing the consequences of their inaction.

Those consequences lie in graveyards, in coffins large and small.