“They still don’t care. They’re never gonna care.” – Leslie McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown
Are black men and boys so menacing that lethal force was necessary in the slaying of a 12-year old black boy playing with a pellet gun near a playground? Lost in the expected and disappointing Michael Brown news was the slaying of Tamir Rice at the hand of a Cleveland police officer last Saturday.
Tamir was confronted Saturday by officers responding to a 911 call about a male who appeared to be pulling a gun in and out of his pants. The 911 caller said the gun was “probably fake,” then added, “I don’t know if it’s real or not.” Deputy Chief Edward Tomba said Monday that he didn’t know whether a dispatcher shared that information with responding officers. Police say Tamir Rice, who died Sunday, had an “airsoft” gun that appeared indistinguishable from a real firearm. Airsoft guns fire spherical plastic pellets and have orange tips to show they aren’t real firearms, but police said the one the boy had didn’t have the bright safety indicator. Authorities said the boy was told to raise his hands and was shot when he pulled the pellet gun from his waistband, though he hadn’t pointed it at police or made verbal threats (John Coyne).
Today, a video was released showing Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehman, 26, and Frank Garmback, 46 arrive at the scene. The video is truly heartbreaking; officer Loehman shot and killed Tamir immediately after leaving his patrol car. Police contend that they yelled at Tamir three times to raise his hands and only shot Tamir after he appeared to reach into his pants for the pellet gun. Loehman shot him at a distance of about 10 feet, the video shows. The kid was 12! As an adult I would be startled if a police unit drove that close near me with officers screaming, so imagine how afraid Tamir must have felt. The officer killed Tamir within 1.5 seconds of arriving at the scene; it seems to me more could have been to preserve his life.
I struggle to comprehend how a mad man can open fire and kill patrons in a crowded movie theater and a monster can walk into an elementary school and slay children and come out alive, yet a black boy playing with a pellet gun (in a state where it’s perfectly legal to walk around with a gun) is killed within two seconds of officers arriving at the scene. According to FBI data, an African American male is killed by a police officer every three or four days. During the height of Jim Crow a black person was lynched every four days. This wasn’t just an execution of Tamir, this was a 21st Century lynching!