A day of events scheduled to protest the police shooting death of Tamir Rice started with a plea from the 12-year-old’s brother.
“If you have BB guns, throw them away,” Tavon Rice, 16, told the dozens gathered at Cudell Recreation Center, across the street from where Tamir was killed while in possession of a toy gun. “They’re not safe anymore.”
The morning started slow but picked up steam when between 35 and 40 protesters from Ferguson, Missouri arrived. When they showed up, the crowd quickly huddled together to listen as speakers talked about Tamir Rice and police shootings from around the country.
“That man had a BB gun, something he’s allowed to play with,” Michael Hassell, a Ferguson protester, said.
I understand—as much as anyone outside such a situation can—why Tamir Rice’s family is upset over the death of the 12-year-old at the hands of rookie Cleveland police officer. But the attempt of his teen-aged brother to blame toy guns, and the attempt of protesters to blame the police, are both missing the big picture.
Pulling guns on cops is a really bad idea, and Tamir Rice pulled an ultra-realistic replica of a real firearm.
Tamir Rice wasn’t your average 12-year-old. He was quite large according to the medical examiner who did his autopsy, at 5’7″and weighing a stout 195lbs. He was so large that the man who called 911 on his antics assumed that he must be in his 20s.
Why did the 911 caller become a 911 caller?
The man called the police because, Rice (who was in the park alone) pulled out an all black full-sized 1911-style pistol on at least two occasions and pointed it at people, as was verified in surveillance camera footage.
A squad car was dispatched to answer the resulting “man with a gun” call, which might have ended with just a polite warning for Rice except for one key detail.
When the Cleveland Police Department squad car containing two officers roared up on the picnic shelter where Rice was sitting, he responded to the passenger-side officer exiting the vehicle just ten feet away by sticking his hands under his coat and pulling the realistic airsoft 1911 pistol with his right hand.
Did the driver make a significant tactical mistake by driving right up to a suspected “man with a gun?” In my opinion, he did. But as significant a contributing factor as that was, that was not the most proximate deadly mistake.
The deadly mistake in this incident was Tamir Rice’s decision to pull and brandish a realistic weapon as a police officer was exiting the passenger side of the marked vehicle.
You can second guess and dissect every other part of the brief encounter if you so desire, but ultimately the single fatal decision was Tamir Rice’s decision to pull and brandish that realistic 1911-style airsoft gun.
If Rice had kept his hands up, or had thrown the toy pistol to the ground and then placed his hands up when he saw the police, he’d still be alive today. His airsoft gun—which had the orange safety tip removed to make it look more realistic—might have been confiscated, but other than that all Rice probably faced was a warning.
It was Rice’s bad decision to pull and brandish a realistic toy gun that was the cause of his death.
Blaming airsoft guns or the police overlooks the fact that Rice put the rookie officer in the situation of having an apparently armed man draw a gun from just ten feet away as he arrived on-scene. Rice put officer Timothy Loehmann in a situation where he had a split second to react to his training as dictated by the situation Rice created. That training was to draw and fire at an apparent lethal force threat.
It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback the situation now that we know Tamir Rice was just a large boy with a toy gun, but Officer Loehmann didn’t have the luxury of time or distance. He was effectively pinned against his squad car, facing off against a sizable stranger in over-sized clothes that pulled a 1911-style pistol from his pants the moment the two police officers arrived.
Despite the cries from agitators that “police racism” killed Tamir Rice, nothing could be further from the truth.
While it may be difficult for his family to admit, it was Tamir Rice’s bad decision to draw and brandish a realistic gun that was his cause of death.