By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – National Civil rights leaders are expressing great disappointment and calling for new policies after a Cleveland grand jury refused to indict the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice only seconds after encountering him with a toy gun.
“Has the value of the lives of our children been reduced to a decision made in less than two seconds? That is the amount of time it took for one officer to decide whether Tamir Rice should die….less than two seconds,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, in a statement. “Life and death decisions are made every day by police officers across the country, but the benefit of the doubt is often given in the preservation of white lives while the presumption of guilt, dangerousness and suspicion, time after time, is reserved for black lives.”
The grand jury decision finally came Dec. 28, more than a year after the Nov. 22, 2014 shooting. In that situation, police were called by a man describing a person with a gun, but told police dispatchers that the person could be a child and that the gun could be a toy. That information was never communicated to officers.
When police arrived on the scene at Cudell Park, rookie cop Timothy Loehmann pulled out his revolver and opened fire upon Rice within seconds. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty told the media that Rice was reaching into his waistband for the toy gun, prompting Loehmann to shoot. He said the toy was “indistinguishable” from a real gun even as Officer Frank Garmback, who was driving, pulled up less than seven feet from the youngster.
“The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it…The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy. But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime,” McGinty said to media.
National Action Network’s Al Sharpton says he is appalled but not surprised “given the behavior and tone displayed by prosecutor Tim McGinty’s all year.”
In part, Sharpton was referring to McGinty’s release of witness statements and other evidence before the grand jury even ruled. McGinty also publically released the opinions of two independent experts saying that Loehmann had acted reasonably.
Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir, released a statement in response to the ruling. It also blamed the prosecutor, saying, “After this investigation—which took over a year to unfold—and Prosecutor McGinty’s mishandling of this case, we no longer trust the local criminal-justice system, which we view as corrupt.”
Her statement continued, “Prosecutor McGinty deliberately sabotaged the case, never advocating for my son, and acting instead like the police officers’ defense attorney. In a time in which a non-indictment [of police officers] who have killed an unarmed black child is business as usual, we mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice. In our view, this process demonstrates that race is still an extremely troubling and serious problem in our country and the criminal-justice system…As the video shows, Officer Loehmann shot my son in less than a second. All I wanted was someone to be held accountable. But this entire process was a charade,” she said.
Sharpton says, “We will continue to support Samaria Rice as we call for a special national prosecutor to monitor such cases and we stand by the Rice family as they are dealt this blow during the holidays,” she said.
The announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict in the Rice case seemed to send shock waves around the country largely because of the publicity concerning the case – focusing on the “two second” before he opened fire and the fact that Rice was a child with a toy gun.
Ohio Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge called on the community to remain calm and continue to support the family. She blamed the non-indictment squarely on Prosecutor McGinty, “whose handling of this case in my opinion tainted the outcome.”
She said McGinty should have recused himself and allowed a special prosecutor to be appointed for an “independent review.”
Fudge said, “The prosecutor conducted the investigation in a manner that I believe inappropriate and as a result he has lost the trust and confidence of our community, and, indeed, mine as well. I accept the decision, but the means do not justify the end.”
The Tamir Rice ruling culminates several end of the year disappointments in the escalating movement for police and law enforcement accountability around the nation. Other disappointments to the civil rights community:
- On Dec. 21, a grand jury decided to make no indictments in the case of Sandra Bland found hanged in a Texas prison cell last July. Bland’s case went viral after video of a White cop was shown arresting her after she refused to put out a cigarette when she was pulled over for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. Police say she committed suicide.
- On Dec. 16, the Baltimore trial of police Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury. He was the first of six officers accused in the April 19, 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died of a severed spinal cord sustained during an arrest. The Freddie Gray case led to numerous protests and a riot in late April. Porter will be retried in June.
- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is dealing with yet another police shooting amidst calls for him to step down. Bettie Jones, 55, a neighbor of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, was killed as police shot at LeGrier as he reportedly hurled a baseball bat during what the police described as a domestic situation Dec. 27. Emanuel rushed home from his holiday vacation to deal with the fall out.
That shooting comes amidst protests and a federal investigation related to a police shooting of Laquan McDonald 16 times, Oct. 20, 2014. Recently released Police dashcam shows White police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the Black 17-year-old as he appeared to be walking away from police holding a small knife. The McDonald case has led to calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step down.
Still, the wins appear to outweigh the losses as police cameras and indictments in cases of police misconduct appear to be growing. This can be traced directly to pressure from groups such as “Black Lives Matter”, the use of videos to prove police misconduct and the spread of injustices and protest strategies by social media, forcing national media to publicize the cases.
“The Number of Cops Indicted for Murder Spikes Upward,” read a headline in TheAtlantic.com, last August. The article reported, “In the past five months, at least 14 police officers have been charged for on-duty killings—more than five times the normal rate.”
Still civil rights leaders say more national policies – such as national standards of police misconduct and a national prosecutor to take over controversial cases – are necessary to deal with the scourge. Brooks concludes of the Rice verdict, “More remains to be done in the streets, courts, police department, legislature, city hall and Congress. The tragically lost life of this 12-year-old child demands that we do so.”