Will the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice get justice? Sadly, I’m not confident that a grand jury will indict Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, although I do believe there is probable cause to send Loehmann to trial.
Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Loehmann on Nov. 22 died from a “gunshot wound of torso with injuries of major vessel, intestines and pelvis,” according to an autopsy released on Friday. The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s report ruled Rice’s death a homicide.
We’ve already seen two recent cases where justice for Black families were denied: A grand jury in St. Louis didn’t indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after shooting unarmed teen Michael Brown in August; and a grand jury in Staten Island recently refused to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was seen on video gripping Eric Garner, 43, in a chokehold.
Garner died shortly after Pantaleo took Garner to the ground and his tragic death was captured on video for the nation to watch. The Rice family has filed a wrongful death suit, arguing that Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, used excessive force against the 12-year-old. Tamir was fatally shot when police officers responded to a 911 call reporting a person pointing a gun — which turned out to be a toy pistol missing its orange safety cap.
Video footage shows Loehmann, 26, shooting Tamir within 2 seconds of arriving on the scene. Why did Loehmann fire at Tamir so quickly? Maybe it’s because he had no business working in law enforcement and carrying a weapon.
“He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal,” a 2012 memo from Jim Polak, deputy chief of the Independence Police Department, in Jackson County, Missouri, reads.
Why didn’t the Cleveland Police Department vet Loehmman before hiring him? Were Cleveland cops concerned that Loehmann could be a threat to the public? And given the findings of a recent federal inquiry that found Cleveland’s police department lacking in several major areas, does that mean that Rice’s death could have been prevented?
These are questions a grand jury should consider. But I have little faith in the grand jury process. And here’s why: According to The Seattle Times, “At least 400 people are killed by police officers in the United States every year, and while the circumstances of each case are different, one thing remains constant: In only a handful of instances do grand juries issue an indictment, concluding the officer should face criminal charges.”
This damning statistic does not inspire a sense of hope that Loehmann will be indicted, especially since his defense will be that he thought Tamir was carrying a real gun. The officers saw the boy put the gun in his waistband, according to police. When the officers told him to put his hands in the air, Tamir reached into his waistband and pulled it out, police said. (But could all that really have happened within the 2 second window as seen on the surveillance tape?)
The Rice family has filed a wrongful death suit, arguing that Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, used excessive force against Tamir. Even NFL players are supporting the Rice family. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a “Justice for Tamir Rice” T-shirt during pre-game warmups Sunday, a decision the Cleveland police union called “pathetic.”
Meanwhile, protests still continue around the country following the recent killings of unarmed Black men by police. Last weekend, in Washington, D.C., Rev. Al Sharpton led a massive demonstration where protestors – black, white and Hispanic, young and old, packed Pennsylvania Avenue with many chanting: “Black lives matter.”
Michael Brown’s parents Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Amadou Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo and Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, were there and spoke about their sons.
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, spoke at the rally: “This is a history-making moment. We need to stand like this at all times.” Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir, said she feels comforted by nationwide support.
“I’m looking for justice for my son and a change for the nation,” Rice said on NBC’s “Today,” show. “Nobody else’s child should have to go through this.”
I sincerely hope Samaria Rice and her family finds the justice she seeks and deserves but, unfortunately, history is not on her side.