One year ago this week, Cleveland, Ohio police shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice within two seconds of encountering him. There is still no justice for Rice and his family. If the prosecutor has his way there will be no justice for Tamir Rice.
On November 23, 2014, Tamir Rice did what bored children all over America do every day. He went outside to play. He took with him a replica toy “airsoft” gun that resembled a real gun. Finding no one on the snow dusted streets on Cleveland’s west side, Rice amused himself. He hung out at a recreational center, played with the gun, made snowballs, and threw them at the ground.
Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback arrived on the scene at 3:30pm. They would later report that they encountered a “male” waving a gun around and pointing it at people. They reported, “The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun. Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.” Rice was taken to a hospital, where he died of his injuries on Sunday night.
Loehmann’s and Garmback’s version of events included more details.
- Police said Rice sat a table with up to five other people.
- Police said they saw Rice grab the toy gun as they pulled up, and put it in his waistband.
- Police said they got out of the car and told Rice three times to put his hands up, and he refused.
- Police said Rice reached into his waistband and pulled out the toy gun. At point Loehmann shot him in the stomach.
- Police said the gun looked real, and was missing a neon orange to distinguish it from the real thing.
Audio and video evidence contradicted the report. On the 911 recording, told the dispatcher, “There’s a guy with a pistol, and it’s probably fake. But he’s pointing it everybody.” He added, “the guy’s probably a juvenile.”
The police dispatcher did not tell officers that the gun might be a toy, and the Rice might be a kid.
The Cleveland Police Department later showed reporters Rice’s toy gun. Police described it as “a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.” This reinforced claim that the officers couldn’t distinguish it from a real weapon.
The police also revealed that they had surveillance video of the shooting. They would not release it either because it “out of respect for the family.” Due to public demand, police released the video on November 26.
- Rice was not seated with other people. The video shows he was alone. In fact, he wasn’t seated at all. The video shows he was standing with the police officers pulled up.
- Rice did not grab the gun and put it in his waistband. The video does not show the gun on the table or in Rice’s hands in the moments before the police car pulls up.
- The officers did not get out of the car and tell Rice three times to put his hands up. The video shows Loehmann shot Rice within two-seconds of the officers’ arrival. Loehmann opened fire immediately after exiting thw vehicle.
- Rice did not reach into his waistband and pull out the toy gun. The video shows Rice used both hands to lift up his shirt and exposed the gun before Loehmann opened fire.
- Police never saw Rice brandish point the gun at them, and never saw whether it had a neon orange tip. The video does not show Rice removing the gun from his waistband at all before he Loehmann fired his weapon.
The video released by the Cleveland police cut out shortly after the shooting. The extended video revealed the officers callousness towards Rice and his family.
The police did not offer Rice first aid. Rice receive no first aid for four minutes. Then a medically-trained FBI agent arrived on the scene. An emergency medical crew arrived three minutes later.
A media investigation reveal, that Loehmann had no business wearing a badge or having a gun. In 2012, Independence, Ohio fired Loehmann from its police force, for being “mentally unfit.”.
Loehmann was “distracted,” “weepy,” and unable to “communicate clear thoughts,” at a firearms training. As a result, “his handgun performance was dismal.” Loehmann was unable t0 erform basic functions as instructed.” He “would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions” on the job. He would likely crumble under stress. That’s from Loehmann’s personnel file, which Cleveland police never read before hiring him. The supervisors who hired Loehmann were disciplined.
Despite all the above, city officials absolved the officers and blamed Rice for his own death.
- Rice’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The city’s defense claiming that Rice failed to “exercise due care to avoid injury.”
- Police wanted to charge Rice with “aggravated menacing” and “inducing panic”. Yet the video shows Rice playing before officers arrived. The complained was “abated” by Rice’s death.
- An investigation by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office found “no fault with the police.”
- A municipal judge ruing that there was probable cause to charge the officers in Rice’s death. Yet, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty refused to file charges against the officers. Instead, McGinty gave the case to a grand jury.
- The Department of Justice cited McGinty’s independent investigator for outrageous bias in favor of police officers.
- McGinty leaked two expert reports justifying the shooting, because police were not told the gun might be a toy.
- Another expert commissioned by McGinty called Rice’s killing “objectively reasonable.”
One year later, Rice’s family is still waiting for justice. No one can guess when this process will end. Though it’s almost certain how it will end. As in Ferguson, the prosecutor is trying to ensure that no indictments are likely to result. The police lied. Loehmann shot Rice on sight. Yet, the officers might not face charges.
No one expected this outcome when Tamir Rice walked out of his house, looking for some fun. His family expected him to walk back through the door in an hour or two.
I thought Tamir Rice this weekend. Our son — who, at 13, is the same age Rice would be now — pulled on his hoodie and walked out the door to meet up with a friend. That’s what any 13-year-old should be doing.
The world is different for children like Tamir Rice and our son.
They don’t get to be children. They are “denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes.” Police see them as “older looking,” and “less innocent” than their white peers. (The police officers at the scene Rice’s shooting thought he was “maybe 20” years old.)
They get punished more harshly than their white peers, for the same behavior. They are criminalized for behavioral problems for which their white peers get treatment. They are suspended or expelled from school more than their white peers, for the same behavior. Boys are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. Police are more likely to “shoot first,” and use force against them. Tamir Rice was shot within two seconds, over a toy gun that he never pointed at the police. Yet, many whites have pointed guns at the police and lived to tell the tale.
No rules can guarantee their safety. There were no rules that could help Tamir Rice in the seconds he had to react.
Of course, I’ve had “the talk” with our son. We loaded him up with advice before he went out the door. We told him to call home if for any reason he wanted us to come and get him. We breathed a sigh of relief when he walked back in the door a few hours later, safe and sound, with no trouble to report.
Tamar Rice’s family is still waiting for that sigh of relief. It did not come at the sight of him walking back through the door that Saturday afternoon. It’s looking like it won’t come when there’s finally justice for his death.