So Killing Tamir Rice Was...Reasonable?
He is going to get away with it.
The Cleveland police officer who shot an unarmed 12-year-old boy will never spend a day in jail. He will never be charged with any criminal offense. He will never be booked and fingerprinted, never handcuffed. He will never be forced to explain himself before a jury of his peers.
Few things unnerve me. I am slow to anger and am not prone to tears. But I was both Saturday night—pissed off and crying—because somebody somewhere said it was OK to kill a black child. Two investigators, working at the behest of a local prosecutor, said killing Tamir Rice was reasonable.
For nearly a year, that same prosecutor has been looking for a way to cover his proverbial ass, to assuage public pressure and help us all forget that a rookie cop who repeatedly failed field and fire arms training before getting kicked off another department shot a black kid without provocation.
Tamir was shot on sight.
It was clear that the officers did not know the entire incident was captured on camera. They said Tamir was sitting at the table with a group of people when, in fact, he was alone.
They said Tamir reached into his waistband and pulled out the toy gun before he was then shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann. “He gave me no choice. He reached for the gun and there was nothing I could do,” Loehmann told a fellow officer in the moments after he shot Tamir.
That was a lie too. The video clearly shows that Tamir used both hands to hold his shirt up to expose the BB gun just before he was shot and fell from the table.
Another demonstrable lie: Loehmann also claimed that he repeatedly ordered Tamir to put his hands up. In fact, Tamir was shot within two seconds of the squad car door opening. The wheels were barely at a complete stop. There was no time to order Tamir to do anything, let alone three times, as Loehmann contends, and no time for Tamir to react.
Tamir never removed the toy from his waistband and never pointed it at the officers, thus at no point could they have determined whether the orange safety tip was missing. Tamir presented no threat to anyone and, even if the gun were real, Ohio is an open-carry state. The minimum age is 18, but remember the officers said they thought Tamir was in his 20s.
As Tamir lay on the icy concrete fighting for his life, neither Loehmann nor his partner Frank Garmback thought to render first aid. An FBI agent who happened to be in the area working a bank robbery came by a few minutes later and tried desperately to resuscitate the boy.
In the end, none of that will matter. Not the videotape, not the lies, not the failure to render aid to a dying boy. There will be no grand jury indictment and the probability that Loehmann will face criminal charges is hovering around zero. Even if Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty were of the mind to take this case to trial, the deck would be stacked against him.
Such charges against a police officer are extraordinarily rare in Ohio or anywhere else in the country. When there is a grand jury indictment, the probability of a conviction is even smaller. Convincing 12 people that a member of law enforcement acted with illegal force in the killing of a suspect is a steep hill to climb. When the officer is white and victim is black, the pathway to justice grows even rockier.
However, McGinty appears to be participating in the card shuffling. The investigation has dragged on for nearly a year. If the roles had been reversed—a 12-year-old black boy shooting a white police officer—Tamir would have been indicted on first-degree murder charges and tried as an adult. Had Tamir lived, he would have faced criminal charges. An incident report filed a full week after he died alleged “aggravated menacing” and “inducing panic.” Those charges were “abated by death.”
Without question, tape or no tape, if the roles were reversed, McGinty would have sprinted to the grand jury room and dared anyone to challenge that decision. He certainly would not be gaming the public and rigging the process by releasing two reports that appear to exonerate the officers on a Saturday night before a grand jury has had a chance to review the evidence.
We should be troubled by the notion that Loehmann was an officer at all, that somebody on the Cleveland police department saw fit to hand him a badge and a gun in the first place. Another department in the area previously fired him because he was unable to follow “basic functions as instructed.” He experienced a “dangerous loss of composure” during a weapons training exercise and his performance was “dismal,” wrote a former commander. The written memo said further that Loehmann demonstrated “a lack of maturity.”
“I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," the author of the memo wrote.
I resent that there is a system in place designed, ready, and eager to protect Loehmann. Hiring him without reviewing his personnel records was nothing short of malfeasance. I resent that anyone deemed him worthy to serve and protect.
But more than that, I resent the notion that our sons are required to meet a different standard when confronted by police or other people in authority. I resent the fact that my sons and daughters cannot play with the same toys. I resent the fact that young Tamir could not play in a public park without the threat of death or jail. I resent that anyone anywhere would dare blame Tamir’s mother for her son’s death. I resent that fact that open-carry laws are not designed to protect my black children and me, but rather to protect society from me and my black children.
Whether driven by implicit racial bias or plain incompetence, despite assurances from the district attorney that he will take the matter to a grand jury, I do not harbor a scintilla of confidence that Loehmann will ever answer for killing this child.
I resent the fact that Tamir is dead—killed in a state-sanctioned drive-by—and that nobody will pay a price for that.