The Tamir Rice case is probably the most heartbreaking story I’ve covered in a long time. A young boy doing something that shouldn’t have been an issue was shot by police. There was tons of outrage and I understand exactly why people were upset. I mean, he was only 12-year-old and playing in a park. There shouldn’t have been an issue.
Unfortunately, there was.
Now, the federal government has declined to pursue charges against the officers involved in the shooting.
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it would not bring federal criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers in the 2014 killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, saying video of the shooting was of too poor a quality for prosecutors to conclusively establish what had happened.
In closing the case, the department brought to an end a long-running investigation into a high-profile shooting that helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and that became part of the national dialogue about police use of force against minorities, including children. The decision, revealed in a lengthy statement, does not condone the officers’ actions but rather says the cumulative evidence was not enough to support a federal criminal civil rights prosecution.
Tamir was playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland on Nov. 22, 2014, when he was shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann, who is white, seconds after Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, arrived at the scene. The officers were called to the recreation center after a man drinking beer and waiting for a bus had called 911 to report that a “guy” was pointing a gun at people. The caller told a 911 dispatcher that it was probably a juvenile and the gun might be “fake,” though that information was never relayed to the officers.
Let’s be honest, as tragic as Rice’s death might have been, the Justice Department has made the right call here.
First, let’s face the facts. Namely that determining if something is a pellet gun or a real firearm is virtually impossible in the split second you need to react.
Further, let’s also note that whether the witness believed it to be a “fake” or not, that information doesn’t need to be given to the officer. The caller had no definitive knowledge it was a fake, only a guess, which is irrelevant to the officers on the scene. They’ll need to assume it’s a real gun regardless of what some dude drinking a beer on a bus stop bend might think.
Having seen the video of the incident, Rice’s “gun” looked real enough. It’s a bad quality video, though, and it would be difficult to determine much of anything to conclude definitively the officers did anything illegal.
Changes need to happen because of Tamir Rice, but charges against these officers–the very same officers who will have to deal with the fact they were involved in the killing of a 12-year-old boy–aren’t what we need. What we need is to teach our kids that even semi-realistic guns aren’t toys that should be played with out in public, that they shouldn’t be pointed at people in general, and that if the police show up there’s a good chance they believe it’s a real gun, so do as you’re told.
We need to learn from this, but until people can get past the racial component, we won’t.