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The Killing of Cleveland, Ohio Native , Twelve-Year-Old Tamir Rice

Posted by 
Matt Reicher
Matt Reicher
 14 days ago
Photo of twelve-year-old Cleveland, Ohio native Tamir RiceSamaria Rice
“No parent should have to endure something like this.” -- Samaria Rice (Tamir's mom)

Tamir Rice deserved the benefit of the doubt from the police on November 22, 2014. Instead of approaching the scene with the intent to exterminate a perceived threat, officers should have assessed the situation and attempted to deescalate. That didn’t happen. Rice was a twelve-year-old boy guilty of making a twelve-year-old boy mistake outside of Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately, it cost him his life.

That day he was in the park area and allegedly pointing a toy pistol at passers-by. Rice had recently traded a cell phone to his friend for the realistic-looking toy gun that fired plastic pellets, a replica Colt M1911 semi-automatic airsoft gun. The orange tip had been removed to repair the toy and was never re-attached. A concerned citizen called 911 and reported a guy with a pistol in the area pointing it at people. The caller noted more than once that the gun was probably fake. The 911 dispatcher never relayed that piece of vitally important information to the officers sent to the scene.

Officers Garmback and Loehmann believed that the boy with the airsoft gun was a man brandishing a real weapon based on the limited information. As they drove toward the gazebo that the boy sat under, they perceived a 5’7”, 175-lb man standing up and walking toward them. In their opinion, the situation posed an immediate threat. It was Rice. In later testimony, they noted that they’d asked Rice to raise his hands on three separate occasions before firing the fatal shot. However, video evidence of the confrontation wildly contradicts those claims.

In park video surveillance footage, a police cruiser came to a sliding stop in the grass directly in front of the gazebo, and Officer Loehmann exited with his firearm drawn. Two seconds later, and standing at a point-blank range between four-and-a-half and nine feet from Rice, he fired two shots. One missed, and the other hit the boy in the torso, forcing Rice to crumple to the snowy ground. Officer Loehmann had exited the cruiser and shot the boy before the car had come to a complete stop.

Garmback called in the shooting, relaying over the radio that they had a twenty-year-old male victim that needed assistance. Neither officer was properly trained to administer first-aid, so Rice laid on the ground, wounded and alone, for four minutes before an FBI agent in the neighborhood provided him aid. Eight minutes later, paramedics arrived, and almost fifteen minutes after their arrival Rice was taken away on a stretcher and headed for MetroHealth Medical Center for emergency surgery. The twelve-year-old died the following day.

According to initial reports by Cleveland Police officials shortly after the shooting Tamir took a pistol from underneath a table and stuffed it in his waistband. They also reported that Rice was sitting with a group of other people at the time. Subsequent video testimony proved both claims to be untrue. Rice was alone and his reasoning for having the gun out in front of police remains unproven.

Protests against the killing of Tamir Rice and other black Americans occurred, not only in Cleveland but throughout the country. They continued off-and-on as the system fell continuously fell short of what they felt was justice. Rice’s death is seen as one of the killings that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Errors, irregularities, miscommunications, omissions, and other mistakes all contributed to the death of Tamir Rice. In failing to indict the officers a year later, the District Attorney noted that Rice’s death was a tragedy, but that the two officers acted reasonably considering their perceived threat.

During a follow-up investigation of the shooting and later civil trial, the tried-at-true ugly standards of victim-bashing came out to play. Tamir Rice was no longer a twelve-year-old child, but a 5'7", 175–195-lb male with a 36" waist. He wasn’t a kid playing in the park with a toy gun, but a potential shooter — a threat.

All too often in these cases, the victim, unable to speak for themselves, is vilified in an effort to invalidate their story. In doing so, the focus is moved away from the defendant and their role in the victim’s demise. In court, legal representatives for the City of Cleveland went as far as to claim Rice — a likely frightened twelve-year-old boy — and his mother was responsible for his own death, not Officer Loehmann.

The court of public opinion was also allowed to weigh in, offering its ugliness on the ability of Tamir’s mom’s past and her ability to care for her child, as well as the real intentions of the boy that fateful day. If she had not allowed him to play with that toy gun, and he had not been at the park (being a kid), the tragedy would’ve never occurred. It’s sick and wrong to give a platform to this kind of ugliness, and yet we allow it to happen — repeatedly — anyway.

In April 2016, the city agreed to pay a 6 million dollar settlement to the family of Tamir Rice. Per the terms of the civil agreement, they admitted no wrong-doing in his death.

Officer Timothy Loehmann, the man that fired the shot that killed Tamir Rice, was fired from the force in May 2017. Not for the killing, but for misrepresenting information on his initial job application. Officer Frank Garmback was suspended for five days for reckless driving on the day of the shooting. In 2017, the 911 dispatcher that failed to disclose portions of the call information to the officers was suspended for eight days.

Much like the Kalief Browder case — and sadly, many others, the system tasked to protect and serve has contributed to another black person’s death, stealing a child away from their mother, and robbing society of their future contributions.

In April 2016, the city agreed to pay a 6 million dollar settlement to the family of Tamir Rice. Per the terms of the civil agreement, they admitted no wrong-doing in his death.

There is no doubt that law enforcement is tough work; however, the life-and-death split-second decisions of the job too often end with another black person’s name chanted at subsequent protests. It’s simple, really; their life must matter while they’re alive. We need to raise our collective voices and force the system to break the current cycle of killing. Humanity needs to triumph over irrational fear.


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