Kimani Gray, 16, was gunned down in East Flatbush last month by plain clothes officers. Another young black male. East Flatbush protested his killing and the strained relationship with the NYPD got thinner. On Facebook, a mother I had gone to high school with questioned why people were protesting the death of a boy with a gang association and a criminal record. Her friends chimed in with varying degrees of agreement. Their angles included trouble teen…being out late at night…gangs…parental guidance (or lack thereof)…They’re entitled to their opinions, but I disagree. In fact, I sort of felt as if they turned their backs on this boy because at this time in his life he wasn’t model citizen, but a menace to society. As if Trayvon Martin and Kimani Gray were at opposite ends of the continuum of what a teenaged boy should be and so Kimani should be dismissed. Reading the thread, I kept thinking, but he’s 16.
The person who started the conversation about Kimani and I not only went to high school together, but also hang out in the same social circles which included delinquents of all kinds including gang members. Some of those once-upon-time menaces are now married and/or with children and productive citizens. The last time I saw one of them, he told me got arrested–for an unpaid parking ticket. We laughed that after all that time, he still managed to get arrested for something.
There are many stories of those who turned their lives around, nothing new. The other day I was on the train with three mature men talking about being “clean”. One has been clean for for 11 years and goes around to different facilities to speak with addicts for encouragement. Another has been clean for 13 years, got married and bought a house. The third one has been clean for 18 years. I don’t know how long their addictions lasted, but I know their fight to stay clean is a daily struggle (as per their conversation). They never gave up and can say they made it over the hurdle. Kimani Gray will never get that opportunity.
You don’t give up on a person at the age of 16 when there are people who are finally get it together at 60. Kimani could have changed. I’m not in wonderland singing “Kumbaya” and hugging trees, statistics show Kimani could have been a recidivist. The odds were stacked against him, but if he had lived maybe, just maybe, he could have beaten the odds.