On Tamir Rice, and Watching Brothers Die.

LBDI froze in horrified disbelief as you ran towards your brother, and it all came flooding back. The raw, suffocating desperation of watching your little brother die. I know it well–I once watched mine die, too.

But this. This was different. You see, I held my little brother’s swollen hand in a sterile hospital room, surrounded by doctors and nurses and flickering machines as he took ragged, rasping breaths. I held his hand and cradled his face and choked I love you so much over and over and over again, until a sobbing nurse told us that he was gone. My brother died with the people that love him fiercest and best mere inches away.

But you. They made you watch your brother through a glass window. I saw that officer tackle you into the dirt and my sister-heart howled wildly with yours. Just feet away from him—it might as well have been a mile.

They wouldn’t let you close. They put all fourteen years of you into handcuffs and locked you into the back of a squad car. I close my eyes and I can imagine you screaming into the cavernous, damning silence until you were hoarse, begging them to please please let you go to the boy bleeding alone in the snow. Screaming that you loved him so much.

The world would spin on as it impossibly does—but where strangers would see a case to be dissected, you would walk through your front door and see the sneakers that he would never wear again. I wonder, while the rest of us read headlines, if you just crawled up onto his bed and buried your face in his pillow, hoping the lingering scent might bring him back to you. Because he wasn’t a headline, he was your little brother. As experts hotly debated on the morning news, I can imagine consuming grief slipping down your cheeks as you began to understand that Tamir would never get to blow out thirteen birthday candles, never again leave the top off the milk, never again sit beside you on a rainy Saturday morning to watch TV. It overwhelms–the inescapable, searing reality that there will be no more tomorrows. That your little brother is never going to grow up, and that the memories that you have of him are all there will ever be.

The thing is, my little brother died of cancer. But your little brother? Your brother bled into the snow alone. Your brother never should have died.

I stand trembling, weeping over a broken system that guns down twelve year old little black boys in parks when I’ve never given a second thought to the safety of my blonde-haired, blue-eyed brothers. I mourn for a world that allows me to hold my brother’s hand while he dies in a sterile hospital bed—and puts you in handcuffs while yours bleeds out into the snow. And when it feels like a watching world shrugs over the death of one more black boy,  I cry out to a God who once watched His own innocent Son bleed out and die. Because Tamir was THAT precious to Him. He is precious to God, and he is precious to me.

I have nothing to offer you but a sister-heart that knows what it is to bury your face in his pillow and miss your little brother. I am desperately sorry for the unjust, senseless loss of yours.

Come, Lord Jesus.


As I write, I am acutely aware of my ignorance of the black experience, and this specific kind of grief. While I cannot fully understand Tajai’s experience, I grieve with her as a sister that has lost a brother. My words are imperfect, but I ask for your grace as I clumsily enter into a painful, ongoing conversation. There are many voices that  I and dear friends of mine deeply respect who are more qualified to speak to this than I, here are some:

Cristena Clevaland

Peter Chin 

Eugene Cho

Dan Hyun

Drew Hart

Strange Fruit Blog


Kathy Khang

Austin Channing 


  1. ashleypdickens says:

    If you’re unfamiliar with Tamir’s story, here’s a great resource: http://www.vox.com/2014/11/24/7275297/tamir-rice-police-shooting

  2. thank you for sharing your heart, ash. <3

  3. Michael Gustafson says:

    There, quite literally, aren’t words. But, thank you.

  4. I am letting Samaria’s words sink in tonight. I am honored to hear her story. So somber at her experiences. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/us/samaria-rice-reflects-on-the-loss-of-her-son-tamir-rice.html?_r=0

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ashley. I find this helpful both in remembering that these are people, not a talking point for a political agenda (on either side). Thanks for sharing vulnerably, and for helping us who haven’t been there try to walk a little more in their shoes, so that we might grieve for broken souls, and a world that needs Jesus.

  6. You’re amazing and this is beautiful and as a black, female, Christian, writer, with 5 brothers, I am deeply moved. God grieves over these loses and so should we!

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