A 12-year-old African-American boy in Cleveland, Ohio is dead because he was toying around with a pellet gun.
Tamir Rice will never see 13. Never play sports, never go to high school prom, never get what is supposed to be guaranteed in this country: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Instead, he’s relegated to a long list of unarmed black citizens who have been fatally shot by police.
The police officer — Timothy Loehmann — who fired multiple shots into that child’s body is free to go back to his job and live his life, thanks to Monday’s Grand Jury decision not to pursue charges. Loehmann, as an aside, had been dismissed from another Ohio police department because he was incompetent at handling firearms.
Tamir’s family released a statement saying they were “saddened and disappointed by this outcome — but not surprised.”
It’s safe to say that nobody is surprised. It’s safe to say that very few even blinked at the news.
Such instances have become commonplace.
The past couple of years — thanks to technology — have been rife with documented cases. There’s no need to describe them because we’re all familiar and have likely lost count, but let’s illuminate one: Eric Garner, who was unarmed and suspected of illegally peddling cigarettes on the streets of New York City, was manhandled by a handful of New York’s proudest, and choked to death by officer Daniel Pantaleo while the others let it happen. No less than 11 times Garner wheezed “I can’t breathe.” After he lost consciousness, those officers left him on a sidewalk for seven minutes before calling paramedics.
About five months later, a Grand Jury decided that Pantaleo should not be charged. After all, he was… fearing for his life.
Again and again, with the occasional exception (e.g. the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore), we see cops killing unarmed black men – and women – and getting away with it. Over the weekend, in Chicago, we saw two more killed, including a 55-year-old grandmother. Police had been called because of a domestic dispute. The two who were killed? Unarmed. Police and the mayor of Chicago apologized for the killing of the grandmother, calling it “unfortunate.”
Tamir Rice, a kid with a charmingly boyish smile, was doing what many of us former boys – now men – did in their childhoods: He was walking around, seemingly in a world of his own, waving and pointing what we used to call a BB gun that shoots non-lethal plastic projectiles at nobody in particular. One can check the video. He doesn’t fire a round nor issue a threat. That’s more than can be said for some of my childhood friends.
It doesn’t get much more innocent than that for little boys.
Until the cops showed up.
They’d been called by a caller who didn’t know if Tamir was a boy or a man, or if the gun was fake or real.
Fair enough, but here’s what they didn’t do: Stop 50 or so yards from Tamir and observe that this was, in fact, a child. Or get on their megaphone and tell him to put down whatever was in his hand so they could talk things over. Nor did they call for backup to help assess and assist. They did, it appears on the video, exactly zero investigating.
Here’s what they did do: Put the pedal to the metal, pulled up within five feet of Tamir, jumped out of the vehicle and within two seconds, according to police reports and video, began blasting away.
Their tried-and-true defense has become cliché: They feared for their lives. Tamir, they reported, reached for his waistband (for the BB gun). The officers had no choice. Blue lives matter, you know.
And thus, the abomination of countless numbers of police shootings of unarmed black men in the land of the free became more abominable.
We no longer can say, simply, that unarmed black men are being murdered, with no ensuing justice to be found. That will not do. With the death of the ever-smiling Tamir Rice, we must now state that police are shooting unarmed black men and boys.
Grand juries don’t blink.
How do we sleep?