Killer Tornado

Have you ever imagined your death? I don’t mean the dream where you pass away peacefully in your sleep because of old age—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. 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 imagined 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, tornadoes 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. 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 Black people by police officials is a national disaster Americans have yet to overcome. Because of the multiple motives and variables we have only been able to create one warning sign: police officer in the presence of a Black person. After the devastating 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, a young boy shot while walking to his house with a bag of skittles, this generation began to focus on Black bodies being brutalized. The activists Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors were not going to take these killings lightly; they responded by creating a nation wide organization called #BlackLivesMatter. This organization brings Black issues to the forefront, starting with the most basic—we don’t want to die.

In 2014, the United States experienced 1,111 police killings. 281 of those killings were of Black people. The damage was immeasurable—there is no scale. Armed or not, Black people began to live in a perpetual state of warning.

Unlike most of the murders caused by police officials, Eric Garner’s was caught on tape. The 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. 11 times Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe.” The lack of oxygen induced a heart attack; 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 (mbar), and the record drop during a tornado is 194 mbar below the average. A human can tolerate a drop of 538 mbar. Meaning, the air pressure 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—shriek as cops show up to investigate the fight down the street. I had already broken it up. 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. Their questions assault the air between us: What were you selling? Were those loose cigarettes? Who was the guy you were talking to? I wasn’t doing anything. 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.

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