In the wake of yesterday’s grand jury decision not to charge officers involved in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice comes the anticipated — and understandable — controversy.
The death of this 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun is terribly tragic and heartbreaking. No one can deny that this was a horrible loss of life.
But before rushing to judgement and condemning the judicial process, one must look beyond the basic facts that a black boy was fatally shot by police officers.
Prosecutors called a ‘perfect storm of human error.’ Perhaps the error that tops them all is the mistaken belief that the toy gun Tamir Rice was wielding was a real one. And this one picture may help us understand just how police made this fatal miscalculation about the situation they were called upon to address:
Can you tell the difference, even when studying the two guns above at your own leisure?
The gun in the top right of this picture is a replica of the toy gun Tamir Rice was carrying the day he was shot. Prosecutors say it was missing an orange cap on the tip of the barrel that would have identified it as a toy. Multiple veteran officers, including the responding officers, believed the gun that Rice possessed was in fact real. And evidence suggests Rice himself had been warned, upon receipt of the gun, to be careful with it because it looked so real.
Now, imagine you’ve been dispatched to a scene where you’ve been told a man “in his 20s” — who weighs 195 pounds at 5’7″ tall — appears to be reaching for the one in the top right of this photo. Surveillance video of the shooting verifies Rice could be seen “pulling up his outer garment with both hands near the right side of his waist.” You have just mere seconds to decide what to do as the man reaches for his apparent gun, amid the other bystanders in the park.
I, for one, can understand the difficult situation the police officers were faced with, based on that photo alone.
Further suggesting this was truly a misunderstanding of epic proportions — a “perfect storm of human error,” rather than malicious targeting based on race or any other factor — consider these additional points the grand jury considered, as CNN legal analyst Phillip Holloway notes:
After firing two shots at Rice, Officer Loemann [the responding officer] “stumbled and fell backward, regained his footing, and found cover behind [the police vehicle].” This is objective evidence that Officer Loemann truly believed he was in fact dealing with an armed and dangerous individual. Otherwise, he would not have felt the need to seek a position of cover.
Upon realizing the injuries to Rice, the officers asked for the responding ambulance to “step it up” — meaning to expedite their response to the scene. This shows that there was no malice, ill will or indifference to human life on the part of the officers.
None of this makes anyone feel any better, of course, as Tamir Rice remains tragically dead. However, it is important to understand the details of what happened before rushing to judgement. While there indeed are bad apples — and nefarious situations — in any group, it serves no one to try to lump all incidents that share some top-level similarities into the bunch. And, in fact, only diminishes the overall cause of trying to correct the problems that do exist.
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]