After Tamir Rice's Death, Listening to the Voices of Cudell

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Cheryl Orr and her husband, Willie, live in a home that’s been sliced into apartments. It’s modest. We’re sitting in green plastic chairs. They have a white artificial Christmas tree, pictures on the walls, a TV.

They’re part of a diverse group that makes up this largely low-income neighborhood.

“People don’t act like because you black, I ain’t going to talk to you,” Cheryl Orr says. “It’s homeowners over there that’s white, some Puerto Ricans down the street. Everybody, you know, they act the same, to me.”

For years, white families have been moving out of Cudell, but many remain. In recent years, Hispanic families and black families, like the Orrs, have been moving in.

The Orrs are in their early 50s and came here several years ago from the East Side. The transition to the neighborhood was tough, Cheryl says.

“When we first moved around here, my boys had to fight the gangs over here,” she said. “Because they were letting them know that ‘This is our turf.’ We had to get used to the neighborhood.”

Willie Orr once worked for the city and for the railroad, he says, but now he’s unemployed. He’s doing odd jobs and says he wants to move farther west.

“This is the lowest that I think we done been, since I done been out of work,” he said. “And it’s hard. But I’m looking forward to being back in a single house, having my own back yard again.”

They’ve raised six kids already and now have grandchildren.

Cheryl Orr says she sees talented young people in this neighborhood who need more support. Many, she says, stop by her house on the way to and from Cudell recreation center, just up the street.

“I laugh with them, I play with them. And they just constantly come, because that’s what they need. They leave home to come here,” she says. “A lot of these kids, they be running from home and needing somebody to run to, and they don’t have nobody to run to, so they just be out there lost.”

At Cudell rec center, Eugene Evans remembers growing up on the West Side. He’s 31 now, and looking for second chances after drugs led to prison time. He volunteers as a coach at the rec center, and warns kids not to follow bad influences.

“You have your ups and downs around here, but to be honest with you, man, a lot of these young dudes, they won’t hurt a fly, man, they just followers,” Evans says. “They just need that extra guidance.”

He recalls one year when the rec center didn’t have enough money for awards ceremonies for basketball, swimming and soccer. Evans and others paid for it themselves.

“We got them nice trophies, MVP trophies, and got them all medals,” he says. “And a lot of the kids, this was their first trophies ever. At the ceremony, they were just happy to see the trophies, like, ‘Woah.’ And their parents were coming. And we made food – I’m Puerto Rican, and my mom made Spanish rice, and it was just lovely.”

I also asked people in Cudell about their relationship with police. Many said they like the officers they know, and want them in the neighborhood. The people I spoke with also said stronger parenting can help stop trouble.

But Tiana Simpson, who lives near the park, says that doesn’t justify the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice.

“Now, what happened, that was dead wrong,” she says.

Simpson also says police need to connect with Cudell’s children.

“You want kids to respect you? Get out, interact. Don’t be scared,” she says. “They don’t bite. They’re kids.”

At Cudell Park, there are two plaques mounted on big stones to remember two police officers killed nearby. Across the parking lot, neighbors and friends have now built a memorial to Tamir on a picnic table.

Recently, strong winds blew some of the memorial’s stuffed toys to the ground. Shattered glass showed where candles had fallen to the concrete.

That day, two little girls stopped by. They gathered up the stuffed animals and placed them back on the table.

I asked why they did that.

“Because,” one said, “we are friends to Tamir.”

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