Tamir Rice Did Not Die In Vain
A grand jury deemed the death of Tamir Rice, 12, legally justified but for at least five reasons it certainly was preventable, needless and avoidable. First, the Cleveland Police Department (CPD) was negligent for hiring Officer Timothy A. Loehmann. Multiple news sources, including NBC News, reported that Officer Loehmann resigned from a previous police job in Independence, Ohio, in lieu of being fired, after only four months in training due to mental health reasons.
Lesson 1: Unaccountable Police Departments Hire Unfit Police Officers.
According to NBC News, Officer Loehmann’s personnel records reveal that he was deemed unfit for duty after he, among other things, showed up for training “distracted,” “weepy” and unable to “communicate clear thoughts.” In response, his deputy chief wrote in his personnel records, “I do not believe time, nor training will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.” Given this scathing assessment, why would the CPD hire such a man and give him a weapon?
The city of Cleveland should review their hiring practices and pay dearly for the negligent hiring of Officer Loehmann. His hiring is prima facie negligence. In the law, we call this level of negligence, res ipsa loquitur, which means the negligence speaks for itself.
Lesson 2: Foolish Parenting Endangers Innocent Children
Second, according to the prosecutor’s report, the father of Tamir Rice’s friend bought his son a BB gun that looked eerily similar to a real handgun. Tamir Rice gained possession of this gun. Given the high profile recent shootings of black males by white police officers, what black father would buy his black teenage son such a gun without any apparent training or supervision to roam the streets of inner-city Cleveland? As parents, we cannot make decisions that endanger our children and their friends. Although it was legal for Tamir Rice to own and display a toy handgun, I still question any black father who purchases one for his son. What’s legal isn’t always prudent. SMH!
Lesson 3: Our Basic Parental Responsibility Is To Teach Our Kids To Behave Wisely
Third, Tamir was seen on surveillance videotape pointing the gun at several people. Obviously, Tamir was an immature child who couldn’t comprehend the danger his actions created for himself. In this regard, he reminds me of Emmitt Till, who was murdered for merely whistling at a white woman. Both youngsters died for violating unspoken customs.
What unspoken custom did Tamir violate? He was a young black male who displayed what appeared to be a handgun. That’s extremely dangerous in America. Whatever adult knew he had that fake gun should have taken it from him. In fact, according to the prosecutor’s report one person identified as Witness 7 admonished him to put the gun away.
Lesson 4: Police Dispatchers Must Be Conscientious and Well-Trained
Fourth, the prosecutor’s report revealed that the dispatcher failed to inform the officers that the 911 caller said twice the gun looked fake, and Tamir Rice appeared to be a juvenile. This inexplicable and negligent failure, in my opinion, was the most significant failure the CPD committed. Perhaps the officers would have handled the incident much different had the dispatcher informed them the gun appeared fake, and Tamir looked to be a child. Without this critical information, the officers said Tamir Rice looked like an adult male although he was only 12.
Lesson 5: Implicit Biases In White Police Officers Are Real and Harmful for Blacks
Fifth, the officers, should have stopped a longer distance away from Tamir Rice. Instead, they pulled up immediately beside Tamir; in effect, creating the imminent danger they later claimed justified their use of deadly force. According to the prosecutor’s report, the officers felt they were dealing with an active shooter and, therefore, were trained to stop Tamir from harming others at a nearby recreation center immediately. In fairness, this decision was reasonable since the dispatcher failed to inform the officers the gun was likely fake, and Tamir was a child.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder if the officers would have employed different tactical decisions if the incident had occurred in the suburbs and Tamir Rice was a white child. In other words, what part, if any, did implicit bias play in their decision to bum rush Tamir and shoot him within two seconds of the encounter?
The import of implicit bias in policing raises several questions. Should police departments train their officers to pay attention to implicit biases? Do police officers devalue and dehumanize black lives? And regarding Tamir’s age and appearance, do white cops often mistake black children as adults, and would additional training address this bias. The answer is yes based on many studies.
Perhaps we can save the next Tamir if we all look courageously at the above issues. And as I said above, the next Tamir Rice could be a black child you know and love. Yes, the grand jury said the law and facts justified the killing of Tamir Rice, but his death still offers us another opportunity for a turnaround hopefully. Whether his death, indeed, becomes a pivotal moment lies squarely in our hands.
For me, I’m ready to do whatever I can to prevent the next Tamir Rice from dying needlessly. What about you?