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Tamir Rice Shooting: Not Just a Tragedy
Tamir Rice Shooting: Not Just a Tragedy
How did a child with a toy gun get shot by police in an open-carry state?
By Joseph P. Williams
December 29, 2015, at 6:48 p.m.
A shorter URL for the above link:
When a Cleveland prosecutor announced Tuesday that he’d recommended a grand jury not indict a city police officer for gunning down a 12-year-old boy armed with a toy pellet gun, he called it a confluence of human error, mistakes and miscommunication.
But experts say the “perfect storm” that Timothy McGinty, Cuyahoga County prosecutor, blamed for the December 2014 killing of Tamir Rice was, in fact, due less to tragic happenstance and more to concrete factors. They include systemic racial bias in society as well as law enforcement, a flawed justice system and a lack of willingness to hold police accountable for errors in judgment — including seemingly selective interpretation of the state’s controversial “open carry” firearms law.
Meanwhile, Buckeye State firearms advocates who fought in the legislature, in the courts and on the streets for the right to legally carry guns in public — as advocates say Tamir did on the day he died — they’ve deliberately kept quiet about his death. That’s despite plans to push the state towards allowing college students to openly carry guns on campus, and to allow anyone to carry a gun in public without a permit.
“People are saying, ‘When will it end?'” says Ohio Rep. Alicia Reece, a Democrat whose district includes part of Cincinnati. Millions of people nationwide saw video of Officer Timothy Loehmann, a rookie Cleveland patrolman, shoot the 12-year-old-boy “within seconds” of approaching him, even though callers to 911 told dispatchers the suspect probably wasn’t an adult and the gun might be a toy.
Now, “a 12-year-old child is dead,” and authorities didn’t even try to hold Loehmann criminally responsible “for over a year,” Reece says. “People are saying, ‘Where is the accountability?”
To resolve the case — which took place just days after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American who wasn’t armed — McGinty also empaneled a grand jury to hear evidence. During the closed-door proceeding, however, McGinty recommended the jury not hold the officers liable for what he saw as an understandable error. Garmback was also not charged. That error began and ended with how the officers saw Tamir, says David Harris, a University of Pittsburg law professor and an expert in the concept of “implicit bias,” subconscious racial prejudice that, studies show, makes negative associations with blacks and positive ones with whites. “It exists in people with strongly egalitarian beliefs, with strong believes about fairness and justice,” as well as many African Americans, he says.
“After millions of test administrations — all anonymous — in the U.S., the research is very solid,” Harris says, pointing to the Implicit Associations Test . “What it tells us is, something like three-quarters of all Americans harbor an implicit bias favoring whites,” including 88 percent of all whites and almost half of all blacks.
At the same time, he adds, computerized police simulators show black and white officers are each more likely to open fire on an African American subject they believe is armed, compared to a white subject who is dressed and behaving identically, he says. “The origins of all this — it’s not character driven, it’s not personal,” but is the result of living in a society dominated by whites, he says. “It’s kind of a bath we all take from the first minute we enter society.”
Harris says education, enhanced training and having white officers connect with black citizens are keys to reversing the phenomenon, but Reece says the situation in Ohio is more complex — one that training alone won’t cure.
“If we have an open-carry state, why was it assumed that he was breaking the law?” she says.
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