Justice is often elusive when it comes to blacks killed or injured by police whether 12 years old or 112. So it should come as no surprise when two reports issued over the weekend indicate the same will likely be true for 12 year old Tamir Rice. Tamir was shot and killed on November 22, 2014 by police officer Loehmann while he was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland Park. A 911 call alerted that someone probably a “juvenile” with a “fake gun” was in the park. Tamir was holding a toy gun and killed within seconds of the officer arriving on the scene to investigate. And like so many before him, these reports indicate the officer was acting reasonably when Tamir was shot. The reports and passage of time since Tamir’s death leads one to almost conclude that once again justice will be denied without an indictment, arrest or trial.
Two reports, both commissioned by the Cleveland prosecutor’s office came to the same result—that the officer acted reasonable in shooting and killing Tamir Rice within a matter of seconds. One report was conducted by a Colorado prosecutor and another by a retired FBI expert. A decision on a whether to seek an indictment has not been announced.
I have friends and clients who ask what should they tell their teenage sons to protect them when confronted by the police. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be said. What do you tell a 12 year old—not yet a teenager old, going out to play on a playground? Do you tell him to be careful because otherwise he may be killed by the police? How would you prevent this incident from happening? Most encounters of a deadly nature or serious injury with police have little to do with sagging pants, Afrocentric hair styles, manner of speech, college degree or anything else that would make sense.
The standard on review seems to bend in favor of the police and not the innocent victim—who was otherwise doing nothing to provoke the police. The standard appears based on what the police officer believes is reasonable fear for one’s life. And that statement alone will likely justify a 12 year old being killed playing in a park. Did Tamir look scary to the police while playing on the playground? How does a child playing instill fear in a trained police officer? Is it that all black men and boys look threatening to police?
Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently stated there was a need for local police departments to keep better tracking of killings done by police. There is no way to know the magnitude of a problem without understanding the underlying statistics and facts. And there should be federal database—not echoed by Lynch. We need to know how many Tamirs, Freddie Gray’s, Michael Browns and Walter Scotts were killed by police. We need to know the circumstances surrounding these incident. That is the only way we can begin to recommend effective policy, protocols and procedures to change the present police culture.
It is the police who need to change. Police policies must be implemented to combat against the racial stereotypical thinking among many police—both black and white. Until the police change, more Tamir Rice’s will be singled out and die at the hands of police.
America’s compass for justice is lost anytime a 12 year old black child cannot play on a playground or in a park without being shot and killed by a police officer. It is as if blacks once again have no rights that the police should and will respect.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. She often appears on air on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, PBS, CBS News, C-Span, BET, Fox 5 News and others addressing legal and political issues on race, gender and class.