Tamir Rice case tugs at Colin Poche's heart

Rays left-hander: 'I can’t be quiet about this'

June 8th, 2020

When he was about 11 years old, Colin Poche remembers playing with an Airsoft gun around his neighborhood with one of his friends. Like most kids at that age, Poche wasn’t aware that playing with a toy weapon could draw some concerns from some of the neighbors.

As Poche and his friend played with their toys, Poche recalls seeing a police officer pull around the cul-de-sac, and then proceeding to ask the two boys if he could see what type of toy they were playing with.

The police officer never appeared threatened by the toy guns and then calmly explained to Poche and his friend that someone in the neighborhood called the police because they thought the two boys were playing with a real gun. Once the police officer finished explaining the situation, he calmly left, and Poche and his friend went home.

Why is that story even more relevant to the Rays left-hander now?

Well, because it’s awfully similar to the story of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who also was playing with an Airsoft gun on Sept. 22, 2014, at a park in Cleveland. The difference, of course, is that Rice, an African-American child, didn’t get a friendly reminder about the dangers of playing with such a realistic toy.

Instead, Rice was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann almost immediately upon arriving on the scene, despite the officer having been told in advance that the gun was “probably a fake” and the person with it was “likely a juvenile.” Loehmann and his partner were charged, but not indicted; Loehmann was later fired for not including on his job application that he was previously turned down for a position as a policeman because he was deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty.

“For a long time, I forgot my own story even happened; that’s how minor of a thing it was. I don’t even think my parents knew about it,” Poche told MLB.com. “I can’t help but draw comparisons with what happened to Tamir and just wonder what would’ve happened if I had a different skin color, if I lived in a different area, and all the different circumstances that led to mine being just a little lesson compared to a tragedy.”

At a time when police brutality and racial injustice has, once again, been brought into the spotlight due to the killing of George Floyd on May 25 while he was being detained by Minneapolis police officers, Poche felt the need to share his story and use his platform in order to spread awareness of what’s going on.

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Poche posted a series of tweets on Saturday, detailing his story. Sharing the story was a big step for Poche, but he hopes the real benefit of his tweets is a link for a petition to have Rice’s case be reopened. As of Monday morning, the petition was within 500,000 signatures of reaching the 1.5 million goal.

“In my mind, you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem; there’s not really anything in the middle,” Poche said. “I felt, for a while, that I was hanging around that middle. Someone in my position, I have white privilege, whether or not I want it to be there or not -- it’s there. And if I don’t acknowledge it and speak up about it, then I’m part of the problem. Nothing is going to change until people on the other side of the situation -- people that aren’t directly affected by the situation -- come and speak out.”

Last week, the Rays and Rowdies, a USL soccer club, issued a powerful statement speaking out against systemic injustice and police brutality. The two organizations also committed $100,000 per year to supporting causes in the fight against systemic racism.

“Our country is mourning the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others who have perished unnecessarily,” the Rays and Rowdies said in the statement. “The evils of systemic and institutionalized racism continue to plague our nation. We know that, all too often, these cases are dismissed or excused without justice being served.

“Black Lives Matter. Police brutality is inhumane. We fully support the protests exercising their civil rights. We stand with black families living in fear. Our country demands better than this for its people. We can’t breathe.”

With the Rays releasing that statement, Poche felt even more inclined to share his experience. Since tweeting on Saturday, Poche has received a lot of support from his colleagues around baseball and has seen a lot of fans reply with similar stories.

Now, Poche said that he doesn’t want the conversation to stop, even when sports return. He understands the importance of everyone continuing to speak out about injustices, and that’s what he plans on doing moving forward.

“I can’t be quiet about this,” Poche said. “I have a platform as a professional athlete. When I tweet something, more views are going to come with that. All athletes in general have this platform, and I think we have a duty to speak out to the injustices we see.”