It’s late November 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s Saturday afternoon and a 12-year-old boy is playing in a city park. Around 3:30, a 9-1-1 call is made from a nearby gazebo reporting that a juvenile is pointing a pistol at random people in the Cuddell Rec Center. The caller says that the gun is probably fake on two separate occasions. The 9-1-1 responder asks the caller whether the boy was black or white three times. (The child’s race is relevant, how?) Two police officers respond to the scene. The incident ends with the 12-year-old boy being shot by the officers. He dies the next day.
Of course, that boy was black. The gun was fake. The boy’s name was Tamir Rice. A mother’s son is dead for no reason at all and prosecutor Tim McGinty announced yesterday that he would not seek criminal charges against the two officers who murdered a child, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.
This is infuriating but not at all surprising. If there is one thing we’ve learned in 2015, it’s that police officers can get away with damn near anything. And that’s especially the case when the victim is black. Apparently, that holds true even when the victim is a child.
I intentionally glossed over the details surrounding the shooting and the investigation that followed in the first paragraph. The devil is in the details and in this case, like so many others, it’s clear who the proverbial devil is.
First, the officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice did so in less than 2 seconds after exiting his police car. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t seem like a lot of time to confront the “suspect” or that the officer made any attempt whatsoever to resolve the “situation” peacefully. Reminder – the suspect was a 12-year-old child and the situation was a kid playing with a toy gun. Both officers claimed to have warned Rice several times before firing but that doesn’t really seem to be possible. Additionally, no witnesses heard these verbal warnings. The officers arrived on the scene and it took them two seconds to shoot a kid dead.
It should also be mentioned that a provision in Ohio law allows allows citizens to bypass prosecutors and seek a judge’s opinion on whether cause exists to bring criminal charges. That happened in this case. Judge Ronald B. Adrine found that “sufficient cause exists to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.” He also found that Garmback could be charged with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Judge Adrine didn’t stop there, though. He went on to state that the court was “thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly.”
The prosecutor ignored the judge’s ruling.
How about the fact the Loehmann’s last post found him “unfit for duty.” Loehmann’s personnel file at the Independence Police Department in Ohio described him as “an emotionally unstable recruit with a ‘lack of maturity’ and ‘inability to perform basic functions as instructed‘ during a weapons training exercise.” How many red flags can be fit into one sentence? Loehman’s file also said “his handgun performance was dismal,” citing a “dangerous loss of composure” during training. He was in the process of being fired. The Cleveland Police Department then hired him without reviewing his personnel file from Independence. Nice job, guys.
What did the officers do after they shot a 12-year-old boy? They decided to not administer first aid to a child dying from the gunshot wound they gave to him. Rice lay on the snow-covered grass beside the cruiser’s passenger side for four minutes as Loehmann took cover behind the trunk and Garmback, the driver, positioned himself opposite his partner near Rice’s body. Rice wasn’t given first aid until a medically trained FBI agent on duty in the area arrived at the scene. Apparently, Loehmann was dealing with a sprained ankle he sustained during the incident and Garmback was occupied with Rice’s 14-year-old sister, who he tackled and handcuffed. Well done, officers. You saved the day.
During grand jury hearings, the officers were inexplicably permitted to submit unsworn written statements but were not compelled to – you know – show up to testify in person. Any lawyer knows that this is extremely beneficial for the officers. This allowed the officers to avoid facing any cross-examination and certainly makes it appear that they knew their version of events would not hold up under such questioning. Because, frankly, I’m not sure what explanation they could provide that would convince any rational human that their actions were permissible. Fortunately for them, they didn’t have to provide that explanation outside of written statements that were not provided under oath.
Lastly, the prosecutor explained his decision to not press for indictment by saying that “we don’t second-guess police officers.” Actually, that is precisely your job. If a prosecutor refuses to examine whether a person’s actions were appropriate – regardless of whether that person is a citizen or a police officer – then that prosecutor should be immediately removed from his position. Tim McGinty has no spine and I’m ashamed that we share a profession. Attorneys are commissioned to seek justice. He has failed greatly in doing that. I can guarantee that if Tamir Rice had been a little white boy these two officers would at least have to face a criminal trial for their actions.
How many unsubstantiated murders of black people at the hands of those sworn to protect society have to occur before we refuse to accept them? And make no mistake. This was murder. If the murder of a child doesn’t change things, I’m not sure what will. I know one thing. I will be saying an extra prayer for Tamir Rice’s mother tonight. May she find some kind of peace in a country that refuses to provide adequate police protection for its black citizens.