In the year 2020, all across the United States, Americans still live segregated from one another based on the hue of our skin. There has never been a Martin Luther King, no Civil Rights Act, no Malcolm X, no Angela Davis. Growing prejudice is all that there is left, to say the least. Us colored people still have to sit at the back of the bus, use separate fountains, tolerate the vile whispering down the streets of our own home. I could not imagine it getting any worse here in New York City, an epicenter for racial violence, but it did.
Daniel first met Renee when she still wore her sparkly pink clip-on bows and he still carried around his Mickey Mouse lunch box everywhere. It was only the first grade, but they clicked immediately. Their eyes often lit up over a shared interest that brought them together; origami. They would go home every day after school, since their houses were not far from each other, and make little paper figures together. Neither Daniel nor Renee lived comfortably since the redlining of Lower Manhattan had pushed them all the way to the worst of the slums. Buildings were deteriorating, people were constantly being evicted, sidewalks were awfully cracked, etc. Living in the widely segregated United States, meant life was far from comfortable for these two young black children.
A few years have passed since then and Renee and Daniel are both seniors at Corlears Junior High School in the year 2020. “I’m already starting to imagine high school. I know we haven’t even started applications yet, but you know you’re coming with me wherever I go,” said Renee jokingly, but Daniel knew a part of her was completely serious. He chuckled softly and replied, “I know, you don’t have to worry about it so much.” He punched her shoulder slightly as she looked back with a broad smile. “So you wanna get something to eat and chill at the playground after school?”, asked Daniel. “We go every Friday, do you even have to ask?”, replied Renee. “Guess not,” said Daniel with his slight smirk.
It was a quarter to two in the afternoon and all of the students began counting down to when they could leave for the weekend. Mrs. Porter kept going on about the so-called “Founding Fathers” and whatnot. Deep down, everyone sitting in those half-broken seats knew that their Founding Fathers didn’t find much for them, only for “White America,” as they would call it.
Ding! The final earsplitting bell rang and the students began rushing to their lockers for their belongings. Renee and Daniel ran down the halls to their homeroom. Daniel beat her there as usual with his long legs. He had always been taller than average. Renee scurried behind him and they headed for the exit.
“So, where do you wanna eat?”, asked Renee curiously. Daniel raised an eyebrow, “Do we really have that many choices?” “Ok fine good point,” said Renee defeatedly. Most fast food places like McDonald's, Wendy’s, etc were closed off to people of color, so they did not have much of a variety to choose from. “I guess most of it really just belongs to them huh?”, remarked Daniel. Renee did not answer. She kept looking down at the sidewalk and continued walking. One of the only places they could really go to was a small cafe on the corner of the block. Daniel bought a small donut and Renee a cookie. They did not usually get much of an allowance, but they did their best to make it worthwhile.
They began walking down Cherry Street towards Cherry Clinton Playground. Daniel put his hoodie over his head and Renee’s eyes immediately widened. She instinctively yanked it off. “Oww! What was that for? You nearly yanked my whole head off!”, exclaimed Daniel. “Are seriously that much of an idiot? You know what our parents say to us about that kind of stuff. It makes us look suspicious and we don’t need anything terrible happening. The police sirens and gunshots are enough to keep us awake at night,” yelled Renee. Daniel stood silent for a while. “Yeah, you’re right, sorry”, he replied softly.
A few yards beyond them was a woman. She was carrying a small purse that was half open and Daniel could see her beige wallet slowly slipping out. Renee wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening, she was too busy nibbling on her cookie. When she looked to her side for Daniel her heart sank and she realized where he had gone.
Daniel caught up to the woman and picked up the dropped wallet just as she continued walking away. She was merely three feet away when Daniel blurted out, “Ma’am your-”. He barely got a chance to finish his sentence. The woman began screaming at the top of her lungs. “HELP SOMEBODY HELP PLEASE,” she screamed. Daniel mistakenly went a few steps closer without thinking to reassure her that he meant no harm. “No, your walle-”, he got cut off again. “SOMEONE PLEASE HELP, THE NEGRO IS ATTACKING ME PLEASE HE’LL HURT ME,” the screech of her voice was comparable to nails being dragged down a chalkboard.
Meanwhile, Renee dropped everything, her backpack, her food. She heard the woman’s screams and she knew exactly what was about to happen. She could feel her heart beating so loudly that it pulsated through her head. It’ll be alright, she kept telling herself. Her tears stung against the chilly autumn wind as she paced to get to her best friend. A pair of police officers had already beat her there. She mindlessly threw herself into the wrangle. She was desperate. She could hear Daniel’s painful cries as he was being beaten down to the ground, but her eyes were so full of tears she could barely make out the image. She was better off not seeing it all clearly. Renee could feel the pressure being put on her as a cop held her down, but she didn’t care. All she could focus on was Daniel. “D-daniel?”, she said faintly. No reply.
The officer had him in a chokehold. “Sir please I can’t breathe. Pl-please sir, I can't breathe. I wasn’t trying to steal it, I was giving it back please please, please. Sir PLEASE, I don’t wanna go like this I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll do a-anything just please I can’t breathe. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS”, his voice broke. He pleaded with everything he had, but it wasn’t enough. Renee could hear the desperation in his petrified voice. His voice slowly faded out along with her consciousness.
November 5th. A week has passed since then. Renee’s eyes opened slowly. She had spent the last few days quiet, locked up in her room, just laying there. She didn’t know what to think or how to feel. She was completely out of touch. How long have I been dreaming? She gathered herself to sit up and grabbed some paper from her desk. She began folding. Cranes are his favorite. He’ll love this, she thought as she smiled to herself, emptily.
The day of Daniel’s funeral is today and Renee still hasn’t cried. She convinced herself she probably wouldn’t do it at the funeral either since it just wasn’t real. Her grandmother gently opened the door to her bedroom to find her quietly doing origami. She hated seeing her granddaughter like this, but she knew she could not change what had happened. She walked around to her bedside and began stroking her afro with a brush. She did not say anything to Renee. She figured it’d be enough to just be here with her for now.
Renee sat through the service silently. Barely blinking, maybe once or twice every few seconds. She sat tight gripping the paper crane, but not too tight that she would ruin it. All the voices at the podium sounded muffled. All the cries sounded like they were coming through a thick wall. She could see the casket closed in front of her. Renee refused to see inside it. She refused to have the last memory she would have of him to be his lifeless body. She chose to remember him as the kind, starry-eyed best friend she had always known.
Renee stepped up slowly. She walked around the casket, trudging. It was dead silent. Renee felt a hot rush of tears falling from her eyes as she laid the paper crane to rest on the casket. I know you’ll love it.