By Caleb Rainey

Have you ever imagined your death? We all wish for peacefully in our sleep during old age, but push past that. If your life was going to end, what problem, what pain, what power would end your life?  For me, it was tornadoes. I’m not sure why, but I always knew the day would come when the winds would wrap me up and whirl me through the sky. I imagined it as an exhilarating, terrifying feeling. My body would feel weightless.  My heart would struggle to pump fast enough, and my fingers would tingle as the tornado tossed me about. It’d sound like a freight train speeding through a tunnel, and I’d scream –or at least try – but my voice would get lost in the rush, a whisper in the wind. There would be too much air and not enough, all at the same time; I’d be surrounded by air but the pressure pushing against me would be too overwhelming. 

I knew the wind wouldn’t kill me though. I’d die by the debris. Something hard and strong would hit me. I could never guess what it was going to be – a brick? A car? A bathtub? I could never fully imagine what would be strong enough to break me – strong enough to knock the last remaining wind out of me – nor could I decide how it’d hit me. Would it hit me in the head and I die instantly? That seemed too easy. It’d hit my body. I’d feel myself crumple and the air escape. I wondered what it’d feel like to be empty. I imagine it as a mini tornado, as pieces of my broken body would continue to fly around me, orbiting a center that was now simply air. Maybe that’s where my soul would hide – in the eye of it all.

 

By 2014, Tornados are a natural disaster Americans have somewhat conquered. We know the warning signs: an eerie calm after a storm, a dark greenish sky, a rotating funnel shaped cloud, a loud roar of wind, and a cloud of debris. We’ve developed sirens that shriek through streets so no person will be left unaware that the threat is coming. The meteorologists have even taken to categorizing the Tornados once they pass. In 2007, at the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University, a group of meteorologist and engineers created a universal way to categorize the tornadoes – the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This scale ranges from EF-0 to EF-5, denoting wind speeds between 65 mph to over 200 mph. Along with wind speeds, the scale denotes what kind of damage will be done, describing the ratings EF-0 and EF-1 as “light” and “moderate”, while deeming EF-4 and EF-5 as “devastating” and “incredible”.

In 2014, the United States experienced 839 tornadoes. 14 of those tornadoes were killer tornadoes (tornadoes that resulted in a fatality) and not a single one was an EF-5. The breakdown was as follows:

 

Enhanced Fujita Scale

EF – 0

(65-85 mph)

EF – 1

(86-110mph)

EF – 2

(111-135mph)

EF – 3

(136-165mph)

EF – 4

(166-200mph)

Number of Killer Tornadoes

 

0

 

1

 

5

 

4

 

4

 

 

In 2014, those 14 tornadoes killed 47 people.

Eric Garner was not one of them.

 

By 2014, the killing of innocent Black people had begun to gain attention by the media. With the devastating 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, a young boy shot while walking to his house with a bag of skittles, this generation had its version of the Emmett Till killing, and the attention was focused on Black bodies being brutalized. After the murder of Trayvon Martin, a group of activist came together to create one of the most influential activist groups of the time, called #BlackLivesMatter. It focused primarily on the killing of innocent Black people by police. So when video footage of Eric Garner’s death was circulated via Facebook, it became very monumental to the movement.  The response was incredible. This video showed Eric Garner being accused of selling loose cigarettes, denying the charge, mildly resisting arrest, and then getting put in an illegal chokehold by an officer. Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe” 11 times. The lack of oxygen induced a heart attack and he died.

Studies show that the inside of a tornado experiences a large drop in air pressure, resulting in a lack of oxygen. The average pressure at sea level is 1013.25 millibars, and the record drop during a tornado is 194 millibars below the average. A human can tolerate a drop of 538 millibars. Meaning the inside of a tornado does not kill but causes discomfort – your ears pop. The lack of oxygen will not be the cause of death; it will be the vicious winds surrounding you.

 

Sirens – police sirens – as cops show up to investigate the fight down the street. I broke up the fight, the police officers arrest the two fighters, and the moment comes to a close. The tensions calm. Two officers, one in a dark green shirt, and another wearing all black, circle me. They assault me with questions about loose cigarettes. Was I selling them? Did it matter? I stand my ground, feet firm. There’s a rush of movement. An arm wraps around my neck. Bystanders roar in outrage. My body is tossed to the ground. Pressure all over. Heart pumping. Fingers tingling. More cops come. Crumple my body. Voice lost in the rush. “I can’t breathe.”

 

The day I saw Eric Garner killed was the day I saw myself die.  He spoke with the booming bass of my father, carried the pride of my grandmother, the body of my grandfather, and the skin of my ancestors. I could feel the familiarity in his movements. I could feel the tension in his muscles. I could feel the sweat on his skin. I could feel the fear in his voice.  I could feel I could feel I could feel… He was real. He was human. He was me. His humanity is impossible to convey, yet it is the most true piece of knowledge I have ever had. He had wanted to live. He deserved to live.

 On July 17th, 2014, I watched as I was taken by the new killer tornado.