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Tamir Rice

Tamir Rice was an innocent 12-year-old child who was killed on November 22, 2014, by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. Two officers responded to a police dispatch call reporting that there was a male pointing a pistol at random people in the park. The 911 caller explicitly stated at the beginning and the middle of the call that the pistol is “probably fake.” Towards the end of the call, he adds that the person pointing the gun “is probably a juvenile.” Tragically, that crucial information was not relayed to the responding officers.

Tamir was by himself, playing in a gazebo when two police officers pulled onto the grass right alongside the gazebo. One officer shot the sixth grader immediately, within three seconds, after arriving on the scene. As the caller had surmised, the gun that this little boy had was indeed just a replica toy gun. The murder of this innocent child happened too quickly. On the video the police car is still in the process of stopping when young Tamir is shot.

To add insult to injury, Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said that she was threatened with arrest because she was yelling at police who refused to let her run to her dying son's aid. She also said that, upon learning he had been shot, his 14-year-old sister also tried to rush to Tamir’s side. That was when police officers tackled Tamir’s sister, handcuffed her and placed her in a squad car with the same police officer who had just shot her little brother.

During the investigation it was revealed that the officer who killed Tamir had been deemed an emotionally unstable recruit and unfit for duty in his previous job as a police officer in a Cleveland suburb. He should not have been a police officer and Tamir should not be dead.

Several months later the prosecution presented evidence to a grand jury, which declined to indict, claiming that Tamir was drawing what appeared to be an actual firearm from his waist as the police arrived. Tamir Rice’s family brought a lawsuit against the city of Cleveland and it was subsequently settled for $6 million.

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Tamir elijah rice (2002–2014).

tamir rice essay

The shooting death of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 brought increased attention to the national debate on interactions between police officers and African Americans. Tamir Elijah Rice was born to Samaria Rice and Leonard Warner on June 15, 2002, in Cleveland, Ohio . At times, Rice’s family life was turbulent as Warner was convicted of domestic violence against Samaria Rice in 2010, while Rice herself pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in 2013. Tamir Rice, who appeared older than twelve because of his 195-pound frame, attended sixth grade at Marion-Seltzer Elementary School in Cleveland and was described as a pleasant young man who enjoyed art and playing sports.

On November 22, 2014, Rice was walking in a park outside the Cudell Recreation Center, a place he frequented. Rice had a black Airsoft pellet gun, without the orange safety indicator usually found on the barrel, and was playing with it around the park. A 911 caller reported Rice’s activities but expressed uncertainty to the dispatcher about whether the gun was real. Two Cleveland police officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, both white, responded to the call but were not informed that the gun might be a fake. Security camera footage showed a police cruiser driven by the forty-six-year-old Garmback, who had been with the force since 2008, race into the frame and stop.

Within two seconds, Loehmann had opened the passenger door and fired two shots at Rice, who was approximately ten feet away. Loehmann claimed he had told Rice to raise his hands three times as the car pulled up, but Rice failed to obey. This could not be verified independently since the footage did not have audio. Rice, who fell to the ground immediately after being shot, died the next day in the hospital. Officer Loehmann was a twenty-six-year-old rookie who had been on the job in Cleveland for eight months. Prior to this, he had been rejected for police jobs in several nearby towns and cities as well as the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department. Loehmann was hired by the police department in Independence, Ohio, but resigned in November 2012 after a poor performance review.

The timing of these events came on the heels of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri , and the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement. Several hundred protesters gathered in downtown Cleveland on November 25 in response to both Rice’s killing and the decision not to indict the police officer who fatally had shot the unarmed eighteen-year-old Brown in August 2014. Demonstrators temporarily blocked rush-hour traffic after marching down an exit ramp to a busy freeway.

Tamir Rice’s funeral was held on December 3, 2014, at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. On October 27, 2015, a grand jury began hearing the Tamir Rice case. Officers Loehmann and Garmback were subpoenaed and appeared in front of the grand jury on December 1 to read their sworn statements. On December 28, the grand jury returned a decision not to indict either officer in the deadly shooting. On January 1, 2016, more than one hundred protesters marched to the home of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty in West Cleveland. Police accompanied the group along the way and stood in McGinty’s driveway but did not intervene as demonstrators repeatedly called for the prosecutor’s resignation. McGinty lost his bid for re-election in March 2016, after a single tumultuous term.

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Nick Fagge & Lydia Warren, “Exclusive: ‘My 12-year-old grandson was outright MURDERED by police,’ [London] Daily Mail , November 28, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2853266/My-12-year-old-grandson-MURDERED-police-Family-black-boy-BB-gun-shot-dead-not-putting-hands-breaks-silence-slam-officers-killed-him.html ; Andrew Tobias, “Portrait of Tamir Rice emerges from investigators’ interviews,” Cleveland.com, June 13, 2015, http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/06/portrait_of_tamir_rice_emerges.html ; “Interactive: Tamir Rice Timeline,” Cleveland19.com. June 3, 2015, http://www.cleveland19.com/story/29230520/tamir-rice-timeline ; “Tamir Rice Protesters March to Prosecutor’s Home, Demand Resignation,” NBCNews.com , January 1, 2106, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tamir-rice-protesters-march-prosecutor-s-home-demand-resignation-n489071 ; Andrew Tobias, “Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland cop who shot Tamir Rice, failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s written entrance exam.” Cleveland.com, January 7, 2015, http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/01/timothy_loehmann_the_cleveland.html .

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Tamir Rice shooting: A breakdown of the events that led to the 12-year-old's death

  • Updated: Jan. 14, 2017, 12:26 a.m. |
  • Published: Jan. 13, 2017, 11:26 p.m.

  • Eric Heisig, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The decision Cleveland officials made to pursue punishment against city police officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice will no doubt be just as divisive as other decisions made in the case over the past two years.

The city announced Friday  that officials would pursue administrative charges against three officers, officers Timothy Loehmann, Frank Garmback and William Cunningham. It is also investigating a fourth unnamed police employee.

City internal investigators said they were able to find fault that met the burden of proof needed to impose discipline. At the same time, these same actions did not meet the burden of proof that Cuyahoga County prosecutors said they needed in their decision not to file criminal charges.

Chief Calvin Williams said hearings must be held before the charges are finalized and discipline is imposed.

Any discipline imposed will no doubt be appealed.

Regardless of the disciplinary charges, the events that led up to the 12-year-old's shooting on Nov. 22, 2014 have been picked apart endlessly by the public, lawyers and investigators.

Former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty called the shooting "a perfect storm of human error" at a December 2015 news conference.

Here is a breakdown of Loehmann's hiring, as well as what happened. Also included are the city's charging decisions and how the city addressed, directly or indirectly, addressed each issue to try to prevent such a shooting from happening again.

How Loehmann was hired

Loehmann applied to be a Cleveland police officer in March 2013, according to city charging documents released Friday. He was hired and started a year later. Police brass, however, did not properly vet Loehmann through publicly available information.

Loehmann now faces discipline for what the city said were omissions on his application. Internal investigators said he had an obligation to be forthcoming and completely truthful on his application, yet he omitted that he would have been fired from the Independence police department. The department allowed him to resign, the documents say.

Loehmann also omitted other agencies where he had applied that did not hire him, the charging documents say.

In the wake of Tamir's shooting, the city said it was committed to improve its hiring practices. At the time he was hired, the police department had no policies for vetting recruits.

Improving hiring practices is also something the city is required to do under a settlement it reached with the Justice Department.

How the call went out

A man called 911 to report that a "guy with a gun" is pointing it at people at Cudell Recreation Center.

The man was calm and told dispatcher Constance Hollinger that the person pointing the gun was "probably a juvenile" and that the gun is "probably fake."

Hollinger relayed the call to dispatcher Beth Mandl. She sent Garmback and his trainee, Loehmann, his trainee, to Cudell. They were on patrol and were the closest available officers to investigate. Garmback, behind the wheel of the cruiser, drove toward Cudell. Loehmann, who's been on the force for less than a year, sat in the passenger seat.

The problem was that dispatchers didn't tell Loehmann and Garmback that Tamir might be a child and that the gun might be fake. Mandl told Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department investigators that she was not aware original caller said those things.

The city has not said whether either dispatcher was disciplined. Mandl resigned from the department in July.

How the officers pulled into Cudell

Garmback, a six-year veteran of the force at the time, drove over a curb at Cudell and to the the gazebo where Tamir had been sitting.

This put the cruiser within feet of the 12-year-old.

McGinty,  when explaining the justification behind not charging Garmback, noted that the two officers thought they were dealing with a potential active shooter based on what information they had.

The city's internal investigators are seeking charges against Garmback for failing to employ proper tactics when driving his cruiser to what was reported as an armed suspect. He also violated department policy by not telling dispatchers when he arrived, the documents say.

Cunningham, who was working an off-duty shift at the recreation center, was not directly involved in the lead up to Tamir's shooting, but is facing discipline for working an off-duty shift without permission and lying to internal investigators.

How Loehmann got out and fired

As the cruiser stopped, Tamir reached into his right waistband and pulled out the replica gun, McGinty previously told cleveland.com.

Loehmann got out of the cruiser and fired his service weapon twice at close range. Loehmann said he shouted warnings to Tamir to drop his firearm, but the whole interaction lasted less than two seconds.

The city, since this shooting, has worked with the U.S. Justice Department and an independent monitor to re-draft how officers use force and try to de-escalate situations. While the new policies still leave officers a lot of discretion, it also says officers must take every step necessary to avoid using violence before using a weapon.

This could include slowing a situation down or moving to escape danger.

How the officers did (or did not) render Tamir medical attention

After Loehmann shot Tamir, neither he nor Garmback rendered first aid to the boy, who laid on the snow-covered grass. Four minutes later, an FBI agent, out with another Cleveland police officer investigating a robbery, showed up at Cudell and gave the boy medical attention until an ambulance arrived.

While the agent rendered medical attention, Loehmann and Garmback just stood there. The agent later told investigators that the officers "wanted to do something, but they didn't know what to do."

After the shooting,  the city of Cleveland trained police officers on giving first aid and put kits in each of the city's cruisers.

tamir rice essay

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Tamir Rice shooting: justice department investigation ends without charges

Twelve-year-old boy was killed when a white police officer shot him in a playground in 2014

The US justice department has closed its civil rights investigation into the fatal 2014 shooting by Cleveland police of Tamir Rice , a 12-year-old Black youth, and said that no federal criminal charges would be brought in the case.

The announcement came five years after an Ohio grand jury cleared two Cleveland officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, of state charges of wrongdoing in the death of Rice , who was shot in a playground while holding a toy gun capable of shooting pellets.

The slaying occurred when Loehmann fired his gun twice at the youth within seconds, killing him. Both men are white.

The incident was one of several high-profile killings of African-American people at the hands of US law enforcement in recent years that have fueled protests giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice.

The two officers in the Rice case had been dispatched in response to a 911-emergency call reporting a suspect with a gun near a recreation center.

But crucial information the caller gave dispatchers – namely that the person in question was a juvenile and that the supposed weapon might be a toy – was never relayed to Loehmann and his partner before they reached the scene.

As a result, “the officers believed they were responding to a playground where a grown man was brandishing a real gun at individuals, presumably children,” the justice department’s civil rights division said in its six-page statement.

Moreover, security camera video of the November 2014 episode was found to be too grainy and taken from too great a distance to conclusively detail circumstances of the shooting, the statement said.

In closing the case without bringing charges, the department said it lacked sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either officer had wilfully broken the law, as opposed to making a mistake or exercising poor judgment.

“Although Tamir Rice’s death is tragic ... both the Civil Rights Division and the US attorney’s office concluded that this matter is not a prosecutable violation of the federal statutes,” the department said.

Although no criminal charges have been brought, the city agreed to pay $6m to the boy’s family to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed in his death in April 2016.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors who previously investigated the killing have said Rice had either intended to hand over the toy weapon he was carrying – an Airsoft replica of a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun – or show officers it was not real, but that the two policemen had no way of knowing that.

The Airsoft normally comes with an orange tip on its barrel to distinguish it from an actual firearm, but the one Rice was holding at the time did not, prosecutors said.

The family’s attorney, Subodh Chandra, said Tamir’s mother is profoundly upset by Tuesday’s decision.

“Justice for the family would be to prosecute the officers who killed their child,” Chandra said.

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Judge orders Tamir Rice essays after Ohio brothers arrested in park with BB guns

tamir rice essay

The cases are eerily similar, with one fateful difference.

In the winter of 2014, white blanketed the ground at the Cleveland park where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was throwing snowballs and playing with a toy gun that, from a distance, appeared to be real. A person sitting in a nearby gazebo called 911 to report his behavior, suggesting that the gun was probably fake, and that the person holding the gun was probably a kid, but that they were still afraid. Officers were dispatched to the scene.

Within seconds, police had shot the 12-year-old dead.

Fast forward two years, to February 2016, at a different park in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland. Beneath a pavilion, two young brothers, ages 12 and 15, played with a pair of BB guns. The orange tips used to distinguish a toy weapon from a real one had been removed; the pistols looked authentic. There was a 911 call reporting the boys’ behavior. Officers were dispatched to the scene.

This time, nobody died.

Surveillance footage shows the boys raising their hands and walking slowly toward police. They were patted down, placed in handcuffs and charged with inducing panic, reported Cleveland.com .

Why white people see black boys like Tamir Rice as older, bigger and guiltier than they really are

Last week in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, the brothers’ attorneys asked a judge to dismiss those charges. The prosecutor objected, because of Tamir.

“We had a young boy playing with a gun and the results were disastrous for that family and for the community as a whole,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Linda Gaines Herman said to the court, according to Cleveland.com. “We have an obligation to have a dialogue about something as simple as this and how it can go from simple to tragic in a very short period of time.”

Magistrate Je’Nine Nickerson will decide Aug. 19 whether to drop the charges, but in the meantime has handed down a preliminary sentence: The boys are to write essays about Tamir.

“It is a very fine line when people have to make split-second decisions as to what is a BB gun and what is a gun,” Nickerson told the court, according to Cleveland.com. “When a police officer has to respond, in this particular climate, you are putting yourself at risk. You have to understand that your actions have consequences.”

The essays, reported TV station Fox 8 , are meant to be a critical thinking exercise for the brothers, who are to explain how their case was similar, and different, from that of Tamir.

One major difference, according to authorities, was how the information from the 911 calls was relayed to the dispatched officers. In the Tamir Rice case from 2014, the person who placed the call told a 911 operator that the man in the park was “probably a juvenile” and that the gun he kept pulling out of his pants was “probably fake.” But when a dispatcher called officers, they were only told that a “black male” kept pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people, not that the caller suspected it was a child with a toy pistol.

In this 2016 case, with the brothers, officers from the Parma Police Department were told about all the possibilities, that the guns might not be real and that they were in the hands of kids.

The death of Tamir sent shock waves across the country, at a time when police brutality and officer-involved shootings, particularly toward black men, were at the center of public attention.

Calls for calm after grand jury declines to indict officers in death of Tamir Rice

The white rookie Cleveland police officer who shot and killed Tamir was not charged with a crime , sparking fresh protest and outrage. The city of Cleveland agreed to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the relatives of Tamir, the bulk of the money paid to Tamir’s estate.

“Although historic in financial terms, no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a life,” attorneys for Rice’s family said in a statement  at the time. “Tamir was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by police — a young boy with his entire life ahead of him, full of potential and promise. In a situation such as this, there is no such thing as closure or justice. Nothing will bring Tamir back.”

Cleveland agrees to pay $6 million to settle Tamir Rice lawsuit, won’t admit any wrongdoing

After the hearing last week for the 2016 incident involving the brothers, their attorneys said both boys have a deeper understanding of what happened — and what could have happened.

“[He] understands that something as innocent as boys playing with BB guns could cause a significant amount of alarm, and put not only others, but the boys who have those BB guns in danger,” Edward Borkowski, the 12-year-old’s lawyer told the court, according to Cleveland.com . “Going through this process, coming to the court certainly has had an impact on him.”

In addition to their essays, reports Fox 8, the brothers must pay court costs of more than $160 for the 15-year-old and $150 for the younger sibling, who is now 13. They’ll also perform community service.

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Fatal Force: A Post investigation of fatal shootings by police

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Tamir Rice investigation details released by prosecutor

Updated on: June 13, 2015 / 7:46 PM EDT / CBS/AP

CLEVELAND -- Nearly seven months after a Cleveland police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old boy, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office released the results of a sheriff's department investigation into the death of Tamir Rice, CBS affiliate WOIO-TV in Cleveland reported Saturday.

The 12-year-old boy was shot outside the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland Nov. 22. He died at a hospital the following day. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide .

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department turned over its investigation to the county prosecutor's office June 3. Prosecutor Tim McGinty has said the racially charged case, as with all police-involved shootings, will be taken to a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the officer who shot Tamir, rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann, or his partner, Frank Garmback.

McGinty said he decided to release the investigative file now in the interests of transparency.

"If we wait years for all litigation to be completed before the citizens are allowed to know what actually happened, we will have squandered our best opportunity to institute needed changes in use-of-force policy, police training and leadership," McGinty said.

The documents detail the moments before the brief, deadly encounter -- and how the responding officers seemed almost shell-shocked as the boy lay bleeding outside the rec center.

A friend of Tamir told sheriff's deputies he had given the airsoft-type gun to him on the morning of Nov. 22 in exchange for one of the boy's cellphones and planned to get it back later that day.

The friend told sheriff's deputies he had taken the gun apart to fix it and was unable to reattach the orange cap that goes on the barrel to indicate it isn't the .45-caliber handgun it's modeled after.

He said he warned Tamir to be careful because the gun looked real.

Investigators were told that Tamir used the airsoft gun, which shoots non-lethal plastic projectiles, to shoot at car tires that day. Loehmann and Garmback were responding to a call about a young man waving and pointing a gun outside the rec center.

tamirriceshooting2014-11-26t212211z1448318240tm3eabq18w801rtrmadp3usa-ohio-shooting.jpg

Grainy, choppy surveillance video shows Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of his police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy. The video appears to show Tamir reaching for the pellet gun, which is tucked in his waistband, when he's shot.

Investigative documents said it's been estimated that Loehmann fired twice at a range estimated at between 4 1/2 and 7 feet. Autopsy records indicate Tamir was struck only once.

An FBI agent who is a trained paramedic was on a bank robbery detail nearby. He began administering first aid four minutes after the shooting. The agent, whose name is redacted from the files, told investigators that Tamir's wound was severe but he was still initially conscious. Tamir, he said, showed a response when he told him he was there to help.

Loehmann, 26, and Garmback, 47, have been criticized for not giving Tamir first aid. The officers seemed to freeze, the agent said.

"They wanted to do something, but they didn't know what to do," the agent told investigators.

The agent said Tamir answered when he asked him his name and said something about his gun. When Tamir became unresponsive, the agent called out for assistance to keep the boy's airway open. He told investigators he believed it was Garmback who provided help.

Loehmann, who had sprained his ankle while falling back after the shooting, was described as distraught by the agent, according to the documents. He was overheard muttering something to the effect of, "He had a gun and reached for it after I told him to show his hands," WOIO-TV reported.

Tamir died on the operating table early the next morning.

Loehmann's attorney, Henry Hilow, said he has not had a chance to read the investigative file and said the officer committed no wrongdoing.

"The events were a tragedy, but there was no crime committed," he said.

Nearly everyone involved on the scene thought Tamir was older than 12, with estimates ranging from 17 to early 20s. The autopsy report revealed he was 67 inches tall, or 5 foot 7, and weighed 190 pounds.

While Tamir might have been big for his age, those who knew him told investigators that he carried himself like the 12-year-old he was. The sixth-grader was in a special education class of six children at his elementary school, prone to exaggeration and sometimes picked on by other children at the recreation center, the investigative documents say.

Cleveland police said Loehmann told him three times to drop the weapon before the boy reached toward his waistband and the officer fired. Sheriff's detectives wrote that from witness interviews it was unclear if Loehmann shouted anything to Tamir from inside the cruiser before opening fire.

Tamir's death is among a series of cases involving the use of deadly force on black suspects that sparked protests and outrage across the country. Critics have questioned police conduct in the deaths of black suspects in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City, North Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore and elsewhere.

A federal judge on Friday approved an agreement forged between the city of Cleveland and U.S. Department of Justice aimed at reforming the city's police department , which the DOJ concluded after an 18-month investigation had shown a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people's civil rights .

The Sheriff's Department and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) took over the investigation in January, at the request of the Cleveland Police Department.

"We are now in the process of reviewing this report and deciding what additional investigation is needed," McGinty said Saturday, according to WOIO-TV. "That is the way that every significant investigation works: The sheriff's investigation is a good solid foundation that will support the grand jury's own investigation. Tamir's family, the people of this community and the officers involved deserve nothing less than the most thorough investigation and analysis possible."

In addition to reviewing the investigative report, members of the grand jury also can ask to hear from additional witnesses, including expert witnesses. They will ultimately make the final decision about whether criminal charges are warranted, according to McGinty.

On Thursday, a municipal court judge ruled there is enough evidence to charge Loehmann with murder and other charges in Tamir's death and to charge Garmback with reckless homicide or dereliction of duty.

The ruling, which is largely symbolic since it is nonbinding, came days after a group of activists submitted affidavits asking the court to charge the officers .

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Justice Department Announces Closing of Investigation into 2014 Officer Involved Shooting in Cleveland, Ohio

The Justice Department announced today that the career prosecutors reviewing the independent federal investigation into the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice on Nov. 22, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio, found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges against Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.  Yesterday the department notified counsel for Mr. Rice’s family of the decision and today sent a letter to Mr. Rice’s family explaining the findings of the investigation and reasons for the decision.

Applicable Law

The department examined the facts in this case under relevant federal criminal statutes.  The federal criminal statute applicable to these facts is Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 242, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law.  In order to proceed with a prosecution under Section 242, prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a law enforcement officer acted willfully to deprive an individual of a federally protected right.  The right implicated in this matter is the Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure.  This right includes the right to be free from unreasonable physical force by police.  To prove that a police shooting violated the Fourth Amendment, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force was objectively unreasonable based on all of the surrounding circumstances.  The law requires that the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force on an arrestee be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with added perspective of hindsight.  The law set forth by the Supreme Court requires that allowances must be made for the fact that law enforcement officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.  Finally, caselaw establishes that an officer is permitted to use deadly force where he reasonably believes that the suspect posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.

Additionally, to prove that a shooting violated section 242, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted willfully.  This high legal standard – one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law – requires proof that the officer acted with the specific intent to do something the law forbids.  It is not enough to show that the officer made a mistake, acted negligently, acted by accident or mistake, or even exercised bad judgment.

Although Tamir Rice’s death is tragic, the evidence does not meet these substantial evidentiary requirements.  In light of this, and for the reasons explained below, career federal prosecutors with both the Civil Rights Division and the U.S.  Attorney’s Office concluded that this matter is not a prosecutable violation of the federal statutes.

Factual Overview

This summary is based on, and consistent with, all facts known to the government after a thorough examination, most of which are undisputed. 

On Nov. 22, 2014, Tamir spent the majority of the day at the Cudell Park Recreation Center (CPRC).  Throughout the day, Tamir was frequently seen playing with a toy black airsoft pistol with a removable magazine that was visually virtually indistinguishable from a real .45 Colt semi-automatic pistol. Tamir would periodically point the toy gun at individuals at the CPRC and at the adjoining playground. 

At approximately 3:11 p.m., an individual made a “911” call to report that a “guy with a pistol” was pointing a gun at multiple people on the playground at the CPRC.  The caller gave a detailed description of the individual, stated that he was “probably a juvenile,” and that the gun was “probably fake,” but he also described the scene as very frightening.  On the date of the incident, Tamir was 12-years-old and stood 5’7” and 195 lbs.

A 911 dispatcher subsequently broadcast the call as a “Code 1” (the highest priority call) and Officers Garmback and Loehmann radioed that they would respond.  The information the dispatcher relayed to Officers Garmback and Loehmann was “there’s a black male sitting on the swing.  He’s wearing a camouflage hat, a gray jacket with black sleeves.  He keeps pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people.”  The dispatcher did not relay that the individual might be a juvenile or that the gun might be fake.  Thus, the officers believed that they were responding to a playground where a grown man was brandishing a real gun at individuals, presumably including children.

Video from the CPRC captured the subsequent events.  It is important to note that the video footage is grainy, shot from a distance, does not show detail or perspective, and portions of the incident are not visible because of the location of the patrol car.  Further, the time lapse footage captures approximately two frames per second at a variable rate, which is incapable of capturing continuous action.

Officers Garmback and Loehmann approached the CPRC’s playground area with a swing set, Tamir’s reported location.  Tamir was not in the swing set area when the patrol car entered the park, but was sitting alone at a picnic table under the gazebo located west of the swing set. He matched the description of the suspect provided by the dispatcher.  No other people were in the immediate area. 

It is not clear from the video evidence when Tamir became aware of the patrol car driving toward the gazebo.  Tamir stood up at the picnic table approximately 10 seconds before the shooting and over the course of the next three seconds, he walked around the end of the table in a semi-circle, so that he was facing in the general direction of the oncoming patrol car but not yet moving toward it.  Meanwhile, the patrol car continued to approach the gazebo. 

Tamir began walking forward toward the passenger side of the approaching patrol.  Meanwhile, Officer Garmback applied the brakes in an attempt to stop the patrol car, but due to the wet conditions on the ground the car did not stop where he intended and instead slid forward approximately 40 feet.  As the patrol car came to a stop a short distance from Tamir, who by that point had stopped moving forward and was stationary, Officer Loehmann exited the still moving patrol car.  At that moment, it appears that Tamir made movements of some sort with both his left and right arms.  The positioning of the moving arms suggests that Tamir’s hands were in the vicinity of his waist, but his hands are not visible in the video.  Officer Loehmann fired two shots within less than two seconds of opening the passenger door, striking Tamir once in the abdomen. 

As soon as Officer Loehmann exited the patrol car, he fell to his right and to the ground, toward the rear of the patrol car, resulting in an ankle injury.  When Officer Loehmann got to his feet, he quickly moved to the rear driver’s side of the patrol car for cover while continuing to aim his drawn weapon in Tamir’s direction.  Meanwhile, Officer Garmback exited the patrol car and began moving to the front of the vehicle, where he stood for approximately 15 seconds with his gun drawn and pointing in Tamir’s direction.  Enhanced video stills show a dark object (the toy gun) appear on the floor of the gazebo within a few feet of Tamir approximately 7 seconds after the shooting, just as Officer Garmback reached the front of the patrol car and just after Tamir’s upper body moved to the ground (and out of view of the surveillance camera).  Officer Garmback stood at the front of the patrol car for approximately 15 seconds with his gun drawn and pointed in the direction of Tamir, then moved into the gazebo and kicked the toy gun and magazine further away from Tamir. 

After Officer Garmback kicked the toy gun and magazine into the grass, he reported the shots fired and requested emergency medical assistance. 

Video Evidence

The CPRC has a number of surveillance cameras, and the incident is captured on video.  Unfortunately, as previously discussed, this video is a time lapse video, has no audio, is grainy, shot from a significant distance, does not show detail or perspective, and portions of the incident are not visible because the incident occurred on the passenger side of the patrol car, and the camera is shooting from the driver’s side of the patrol car; thus, the patrol car blocks the camera’s view of parts of the activity during the relevant time.  Tamir’s hands are not visible in the video during the relevant time. 

The video generally shows that the patrol car came to a stop a short distance from Tamir, and that Officer Loehmann exited the still moving patrol car.  At that moment, Tamir made movements of some sort with both his left and right arms.  The positioning of the moving arms suggests that Tamir’s hands were in the vicinity of his waist, but his hands are not visible in the video and it cannot be determined from the video what he was doing.  Officer Loehmann fired two shots within seconds of opening the passenger door, striking Tamir once in the abdomen.

Officer Statements

In on-scene statements to three responding law enforcement officers, starting approximately one minute after the shooting, Officer Loehmann repeatedly and consistently stated that Tamir was reaching for his gun just before Officer Loehmann shot.  Officers Loehmann and Garmback gave several additional statements to other responding officers in the minutes and hours after the shooting.  In those statements, both officers repeatedly and consistently stated that Officer Loehmann gave Tamir multiple commands to show his hands before shooting, and both officers repeatedly and consistently said that they saw Tamir reaching for his gun.  Both officers submitted written statements concerning the incident approximately a year later, and repeated these seminal points. Officers Loehmann and Garmback are the only two witnesses in the near vicinity of the shooting.

Civilian Witnesses

Only one civilian witness reported seeing any part of the fatal encounter; an additional witness said that she heard shots and heard commands after the shots.  However, the eyewitness’s two statements are inconsistent; the earwitness reported hearing three shots; both witnesses were approximately 315 feet away; and neither of them stated that they saw Tamir’s movements immediately preceding the shooting

Expert Witnesses

  • Video Expert

An expert forensic video analyst analyzed the video evidence, which consists of compressed time lapse footage. He identified numerous technical variables that can result in the misinterpretation of the images by an untrained observer of compressed video images.  He noted that the time lapse footage consists of a series of stills, with approximately two stills captured per second.  In analyzing the relevant video footage in this case, the expert found that, throughout the two camera recordings, the refresh rate in which the video captures a new still image varies from approximately one image per second to up to eight images per second. [1]  He further stated that there is no foundation to establish the precise timing from image to image. As a result, the video in this system is referred to as a ‘variable refresh rate recording.”

Thus, even when the video was enhanced to the still frames, there are unknown time gaps of up to a full second between each frame. The video and the corresponding still frames are incapable of capturing the nuances of continuous action.

  • Use of Force Experts

Seven experts reviewed this case and opined on whether Officer Loehmann’s use of force was objectively reasonable or unreasonable: four of whom were hired by the CCPO and agreed that the shooting was objectively reasonable; three of whom were retained by the Rice family and agreed that the shooting was objectively unreasonable.  Because the experts relied heavily on the poor-quality video of the incident and reached different conclusions about what it showed, their conflicting opinions added little to the case, other than to solidify the conclusion that the video evidence is not dispositive and is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt what Tamir was doing in seconds before he was shot.

Analysis Regarding a Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law

In order to establish a federal civil rights violation, the government would have to prove that Officer Loehmann’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances, and that his actions were willful.  As noted above, caselaw establishes that an officer is permitted to use deadly force where he reasonably believes that the suspect posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.  Here, in light of the officers’ explanations that Officer Loehmann shot because it appeared to him that Tamir was reaching for his gun, the government would necessarily have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) Tamir was not reaching for his gun; and 2) that Officer Loehmann did not perceive that Tamir was reaching for his gun, despite his consistent statements to the contrary.  The evidence is insufficient for the government to prove this.

To fully assess whether this shooting constituted an unreasonable use of force, career prosecutors closely examined, among other things, the evidence concerning the movement of Tamir’s arms and hands just prior to the shots.  As mentioned, the video footage is of extremely poor quality and has gaps in time of up to one second.  The footage does not establish that Tamir was drawing a weapon from his waistband; however, the footage also does not establish that Tamir was not reaching for a gun when Officers Loehmann and Garmback state that he was doing so. 

The evidence in this case fails to definitively establish what happened at the time of the shooting. Both officers have consistently and repeatedly maintained that they saw Tamir reach for his gun.  The toy gun was found on the ground near where Tamir fell, suggesting that it was on his person and that he handled it after standing up beside the picnic table.  The video evidence is simply not definitive on Tamir’s movements at the relevant time. Multiple experts examined the grainy, non-continuous, indistinct video in which the patrol car blocks part of the view at the relevant time.  Those experts differed in their opinion of what Tamir was “likely” doing with his arms and hands, but all agreed that his arms were moving and that his hands, though not visible, would have been in the general area of his waist.  The experts’ opinions were of little assistance in assessing criminal guilt, because their analysis amounted to a 20/20 hindsight review of still frames from a non-continuous video that could not, and does not, capture all that happened in the relevant time period of approximately two seconds, but nevertheless portrays Tamir’s hands in the vicinity of his waist just prior to the shooting.  Further, the civilian witnesses shed little light on Tamir’s actions just before he was shot.

Based on this evidence and the high burdens of the applicable federal laws, career prosecutors have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Tamir did not reach for his toy gun; thus, there is insufficient evidence to establish that Officer Loehmann acted unreasonably under the circumstances.

As noted above, in analyzing a potential charge under 18 U.S.C. § 242, federal investigators must also consider whether the evidence proves the statutory element of willfulness — meaning, that, in shooting Tamir, Officer Loehmann knew what he was doing was wrong and chose to do it anyway.  As noted above, an accident, a mistake, an officer’s misperception, or even an officer’s poor judgment or negligence does not constitute willful conduct that can be prosecuted under this statute. 

Even if the government were to accept entirely the conclusions of the expert who opined that Tamir had his hands in his jacket pockets as he approached the patrol car, prosecutors would still be unable to disprove Officer Loehmann’s consistent statements regarding his own perceptions of Tamir’s movements.  Within a minute of the shooting and with no opportunity to reflect, view video, or discuss the matter with others, Officer Loehmann said that he fired in self-defense and had no choice.  He has given multiple additional statements, in which he has consistently maintained that he shot because he believed that Tamir was drawing a weapon; there is insufficient evidence to refute that central point. 

Similarly, Officer Garmback has maintained since moments after the shooting that he heard Officer Loehmann give repeated commands to Tamir to show his hands, and that he saw Tamir reaching for a weapon in his waistband.  Both officers sought cover from the patrol car, held Tamir at gunpoint for approximately 15 seconds, and generally responded to the incident in a manner consistent with their stated belief that Tamir was drawing a gun. 

For many of the same reasons the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting violated the Fourth Amendment, the evidence is also insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted willfully.  Even if federal prosecutors could definitively prove that Tamir did not in fact reach toward his waistband to draw his toy gun, the government could not establish that Officer Loehmann did not perceive that Tamir did so.   

Analysis Regarding Obstruction of Justice

Career federal prosecutors also reviewed the evidence to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that Officers Loehmann and/or Garmback obstructed justice in their statements to law enforcement officers.  These career prosecutors concluded that it did not.

In order to prove obstruction, the government would have to prove the officers knowingly made false statements, and that they did so with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.  As previously noted, the officers each gave multiple statements to law enforcement officers on the day of the incident, starting within a minute or so of the incident, without time to reflect, discuss, or view video.  They each provided a written statement approximately a year later.  Some of their statements are more detailed than others, and with slightly different verbiage, but all of which were generally consistent, particularly on the seminal facts.  As the experienced career prosecutors who reviewed this matter know, when witnesses give multiple statements, there are almost always inconsistencies due to the fallibility of the human memory. 

Because there is insufficient evidence to establish that the statements by Officers Loehmann and Garmback are in fact untrue, there is also insufficient evidence to establish that they knew them to be untrue or that they made them with the intent to obstruct the investigation.

In sum, after extensive examination of the facts in this tragic event, career Justice Department prosecutors have concluded that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Loehmann willfully violated Tamir Rice’s constitutional rights, or that Officers Loehmann or Garmback obstructed justice.  In this case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the FBI each devoted significant time and resources to examine the circumstances surrounding Tamir Rice’s death and to completing a thorough analysis of the evidence gathered.  The Justice Department remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all serious allegations of civil rights violations are thoroughly examined.  The department aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.

[1] For comparison, most modern video captures approximately 60 frames per second.

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tamir rice essay

Michael Balsamo, Associated Press Michael Balsamo, Associated Press

Eric Tucker, Associated Press Eric Tucker, Associated Press

  • Copy URL https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/u-s-justice-department-declines-charges-against-officers-in-tamir-rice-case

U.S. Justice Department declines charges against officers in Tamir Rice case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it would not bring federal criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers in the 2014 killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, saying video of the shooting was of too poor a quality for prosecutors to conclusively establish what had happened.

In closing the case, the department brought to an end a long-running investigation into a high-profile shooting that helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and that became part of the national dialogue about police use of force against minorities, including children. The decision, revealed in a lengthy statement, does not condone the officers’ actions but rather says the cumulative evidence was not enough to support a federal criminal civil rights prosecution.

Tamir was playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland on Nov. 22, 2014, when he was shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann, who is white, seconds after Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, arrived at the scene. The officers were called to the recreation center after a man drinking beer and waiting for a bus had called 911 to report that a “guy” was pointing a gun at people. The caller told a 911 dispatcher that it was probably a juvenile and the gun might be “fake,” though that information was never relayed to the officers.

To bring federal civil rights charges in cases like these, the Justice Department must prove that an officer’s actions willfully broke the law rather than being the result of a mistake, negligence or bad judgment. It has been a consistently tough burden for federal prosecutors to meet across both Democratic and Republican administrations, with the Justice Department declining criminal charges against police officers in other high-profile cases in recent years, including in the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

READ MORE: Minneapolis officials outline new police disciplinary plan

In this case, the Justice Department said poor-quality surveillance video recorded in the area where the shooting took place prevented prosecutors from being able to conclusively determine whether Rice was or was not reaching for his toy gun just prior to being shot. The two officers who were investigated told authorities soon after the shooting that Rice was reaching for his toy weapon prior to being shot and was given multiple commands to show his hands.

But the video reviewed by federal prosecutors makes the sequence of events less clear. The grainy time-lapse video, which has no audio, “does not show detail or perspective” and the camera’s view is obstructed by a police patrol car, prosecutors said. In addition, they said, though the positioning of the boy’s arms suggests they were in the vicinity of his waist, “his hands are not visible in the video and it cannot be determined from the video what he was doing.”

The Justice Department says seven use-of-force experts — three retained by the family, four by local authorities — reviewed the recording, but the poor quality of the video on which they relied and their “conflicting opinions added little to the case.” The experts used by the family said the shooting was unreasonable while the four others said that it was reasonable.

The New York Times reported in October that the department had effectively shut down the investigation, but Tuesday’s announcement makes it official.

Inconsistent witness statements also complicated any prosecution, and neither person said they saw exactly what Rice was doing just before the shooting, according to the Justice Department.

In a statement at the scene to three other law enforcement officers, Loehmann “repeatedly and consistently stated” that Tamir was reaching for a gun before he shot him, prosecutors said.

Both Loehmann and Garmback also said in statements after the shooting that Loehmann had given Tamir “multiple commands to show his hands before shooting” and both officers saw him reaching for the weapon. Prosecutors said Loehmann and Garmback were the only two witnesses in the “near vicinity of the shooting.”

A state grand jury had declined to indict Loehmann, though he was later fired after it was discovered he was previously deemed “unfit for duty.”

The Justice Department also investigated whether the officers obstructed justice in statements they made to other investigators soon after the shooting. Prosecutors concluded that though the statements included some different language, they were generally consistent. And since there was not enough evidence to prove the statements were untrue, there was also not enough evidence to prove that the officers sought to misled investigators or to obstruct a probe into their actions.

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tamir rice essay

No charges in Cleveland’s Tamir Rice case, as latest shooting stokes anger for Chicago police

Nation Dec 28

Essay Sample: Tamir Rice and the Justice He Never Got

Police brutality towards African Americans has become a large issue in the past decade, and as more deaths occur, it is important to discuss and understand the victims who did not receive justice. When examining these specific cases, it is important to understand the history and background of police brutality, the people involved in the case, controversies and issues with the case, and the rulings that proceed. Using these pieces of evidence, Tamir Rice’s case shows how racism is built into our police force and exemplifies a case that did not get the justice it deserved.

While some argue that police brutality is a construct made up to highlight racism in this country, numerous studies show the statistical difference when it comes to situations involving the police and people of color. Black men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by a police officer (Edwards). Police brutality is actually one of the most common ways for young men of color to die, PNAS says, “For young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death”(Edwards). In contrast, white women have a 1 in 30,000 chance of dying from police, showing that there is a clear discrimination amonst races and sexes when it comes to police brutality. A famous case that helped propel the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 was the death of George Floyd. After being arrested for buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, the police became aggressive with Floyd, pinning him to the ground. George Floyd died from a lack of oxygen, when Chauvin, the police officer, pressed his knee tightly on Floyd’s neck. This case sparked outrage among many communities, and led to many protests. BLM was a continuous protest the summer of 2020, and is still a strong symbol of fighting for change in the police system. 

Tamir Elijah Rice. He enjoyed pottery and crocheting. His school described him as a “pleasant young man”(Killing), and he was viewed as an athletic kid by his family; participating in basketball, football, soccer, and swimming. Tamir was at the Cudell Recreation Center on November 22, 2014. He had with him a toy gun, with which he was pointing it and playing with it, as young children typically do. Someone witnessing Tamir called 911 and reported a young boy pointing guns at people. The caller also said that the gun looked fake, but called anyway because he said he felt unsafe. Police officers Leohmann and Garmback showed up on the scene shortly after. As the car pulled up, they both yelled for Tamir to show them his hands. Loehmann later said that Tamir reached to his waistband, which indicated that he was drawing his weapon. Before the car came to a stop, Leohmann shot Rice twice in the chest, knocking him down onto the pavement. Instead of attending the now wounded child, both police officers stood around until more enforcement showed up. Rice died the next day. 

There are many issues with Tamir’s case. For one, Loehmann was still in field training, showing that he did not have enough experience to make the best judgment, and should have relied on his partner to help him with the situation. Loehmann had also failed to notify the Cleveland police that he had been dismissed from his last job in the force; Loehman worked for Cleveland suburb of independence and was discharged because he had been deemed “an emotionally unstable recruit and unfit for duty”(Killing). Another issue was the time lapsed between when the police arrived and when Tamir Rice was shot. It was reported that only two seconds had gone by before Loehman shot Rice. McGinty, the police’s lawyer said that the officers “thought they were dealing with a potential active shooter based on what information they had.” McGinty says this because the person who relayed the 911 call to the police officers had left out the details that Tamir appeared to be a juvenile, and the gun looked fake. Lastly, Tamir’s family was treated with no respect from the police when they appeared on the scene. “Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said that she was threatened with arrest because she was yelling at police who refused to let her run to her dying son's aid,” and, “his (Tamir’s) 14-year-old sister 

also tried to rush to Tamir’s side. That was when police officers tackled Tamir’s sister, handcuffed her and placed her in a squad car with the same police officer who had just shot her little brother”(Stanford). The last issue apparent in this case is the age of Tamir. He was only twelve-years-old, and it is hard to follow Loehman’s statement saying that Tamir appeared much older than he thought.

The family and public were hoping that the two cops would get criminally charged for Tamir’s murder, but were devestated when they learned that a grand jury were not going to follow through with the criminal charges becuase they did not find signifigant evidence to help them with their case. After discussing the officer’s story of Tamir reaching for his “gun” after being told to put hit hands up, The Justice Department said, “Based on this evidence and the high burdens of the applicable federal laws, career prosecutors have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Tamir did not reach for his toy gun; thus, there is insufficient evidence to establish that Officer Loehmann acted unreasonably under the circumstances"(Lynch). Other arguments brought to the table as to why the cops should not face charges said that the video footage was very grainy, and it was hard to depict the incident in detail. Loehman was later fired, but not for any reason brought up in the Tamir case, he was fired because the police department discovered he failed to release the information about his last job. Garmback was later suspended for ten days because he had failed to follow procedure for how he was supposed to arrive on the scene. 

While this case should have ended differently, it shows how our system is built. The minorities have fewer options to receive justice, and those of privilege can get away with 

killing someone. This case also exemplifies where the police training should differ; how to treat the suspects, how to relay calls, more restrictions on drawing weapons, and clearer lines on when it is okay to fire your weapon. Tamir’s case shows the discrimination that lies between police and African Americans, how issues that occured on the field can be dismissed and forgotten about, and how justice can be denied to those who desperately need it. We need to stand up and speak out against police brutality. Tamir Rice. Say his name until the whole world echoes it back.

Works Cited:

Collins, Jon. “The Federal Trial Begins for 3 Other Officers at the Scene of George Floyd's Murder.” NPR, NPR, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/01/24/1075321209/federal-trial-begins-3-other-officers-george-floyd. Accessed 12 Feb. 2022.

Edwards, Frank, et al. “Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–Ethnicity, and Sex.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 20 Aug. 2019, https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793. Accessed 13 Feb. 2022. 

“Killing of Tamir Rice.” Wikipedia, 29 Nov. 2021, 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_Tamir_Rice#:~:text=On%20November%2022%2C%202014%2C%20Tamir,after%20arriving%20on%20the%20scene. Accessed 13 Feb. 2022.

Lynch, Jamiel et al. “Justice Department won't pursue charges against officers in Tamir Rice shooting.” CNN, 29 Dec. 2020.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/29/us/tamir-rice-shooting-no-federal-charges/index.html. Accessed 12 Feb. 2022.

Romo, Jessica. “Justice Department Declines To Prosecute Cleveland Officers In Death Of Tamir Rice.” NPR, 29 Dec. 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/12/29/951277146/justice-department-declines-to-prosecute-cleveland-officers-who-killed-tamir-ric. Accessed 14 Feb. 2022.

“Tamir Rice shooting: A breakdown of the events that led to the 12-year-old’s death.” Cleveland.com, 13 Jan. 2017, https://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/2017/01/tamir_rice_shooting_a_breakdow.html. Accessed 15 Feb. 2022.

Stanford Libraries. “Say Their Names, Green Library Exhibit supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.” Stanford. https://exhibits.stanford.edu/saytheirnames/feature/tamir-rice. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

Williams, Timothy et al. “Cleveland Officer Will Not Face Charges in Tamir Rice Shooting Death.” New York Times, 28 Dec. 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/29/us/tamir-rice-police-shootiing-cleveland.html. Accessed 12 Feb. 2022.

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Emmett Till and Tamir Rice, Sons of the Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

  • Feb. 12, 2016

tamir rice essay

Atlanta — IN winter 1916, several hundred black families from the Selma, Ala., Cotton Belt began quietly defecting from the Jim Crow South, with its night rides and hanging trees, some confiding to The Chicago Defender in February that the “treatment doesn’t warrant staying.” It was the start of the Great Migration, a leaderless revolution that would incite six million black refugees over six decades to seek asylum within the borders of their own country.

They could not know what was in store for them or their descendants, nor the hostilities they would face wherever they went. Consider the story of two mothers whose lives bookend the migration and whose family lines would meet similar, unimaginable fates. The horrors they were fleeing would follow them in freedom and into the current day.

The first was Mamie Carthan Till, whose parents carried her from Mississippi to Illinois early in the 1920s. In Chicago, she would marry and give birth to a son, Emmett. In the summer of 1955, she would send him to visit relatives back in Mississippi. Emmett had just turned 14, had been raised in the new world and was unschooled in the “yes, sir, no, sir” ways of the Southern caste system. That August, he was kidnapped, beaten and shot to death, ostensibly for whistling at a white woman at a convenience store. His murder would become a turning point in the civil rights movement.

Around that year, another woman, Millie Lee Wylie, left the bottomlands of Sumter County, Ala., near where the migration had begun, and settled in Cleveland. There, more than half a century later, just before Thanksgiving 2014, her 12-year-old great-grandson, bundled up in the cold, was playing with a friend’s pellet gun at a park outside a recreation center. His name was Tamir Rice. A now familiar video shows a police officer shooting him seconds after arrival, and an officer tackling his sister to the ground as she ran toward her dying brother. Tamir’s became one of the most recognizable names in a metronome of unarmed black people killed by the police in the last two years, further galvanizing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tamir Rice would become to this young century what Emmett Till was to the last. In pictures, the boys resemble each other, the same half-smiles on their full moon faces, the most widely distributed photographs of them taken from the same angle, in similar light, their clear eyes looking into the camera with the same male-child assuredness of near adolescence. They are now tragic symbols of the search for black freedom in this country.

It has been a century since the Great Migration that produced both boys began. Our current era seems oddly aligned with that moment. The brutal decades preceding the Great Migration — when a black person was lynched on average every four days — were given a name by the historian Rayford Logan. He called them the Nadir. Today, in the era of the Charleston massacre, when, according to one analysis of F.B.I. statistics, an African-American is killed by a white police officer roughly every three and a half days, has the makings of a second Nadir.

Or perhaps, in the words of Eric Foner, the leading scholar of Reconstruction, a “second Redemption.” That is what historians call the period of backlash against the gains made by newly freedmen that led to Jim Crow.

Today, with black advancement by an elite few extending as far as the White House, we are seeing “a similar kind of retreat,” Professor Foner said. “The attack on voting rights, incarceration, obviously but even more intellectually and culturally, a sort of exhaustion with black protest, an attitude of ‘What are these people really complaining about? Look at what we’ve done for you.’ ”

The country seems caught in a cycle. We leap forward only to slip back. “We have not made anywhere near the progress we think we have,” said Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “It’s as if we’re at halftime, and we started cheering as if we won the game.”

What befell Emmett and Tamir reflects how racial interactions have mutated over time, from the overt hatreds now shunned by most Americans to the unspoken, unconscious biases that are no less lethal and may be harder to fight. For all of its changes, the country remains in a similar place, a caste system based on what people look like.

The men and women of the Great Migration were asking questions that remain unanswered today: What is to be the role of the people whom the country has marginalized by law and custom and with state-sanctioned violence for most of their time on this soil? How might these now 45 million people, still the most segregated of all groups in America, partake of the full fruits of citizenship? How can deeply embedded racial hierarchies be overcome?

TAMIR RICE’S great-grandmother, Millie Lee Wylie, was born into a family of farm hands and sawmill workers. She married young and was left a widow when her husband died after a fall in a crooked river. With dreams of a new life, she packed up her belongings and left the tenant shacks of Alabama for the smokestacks of Cleveland, later sending for her three young sons. Like many of the women new to the north, she found work as a housekeeper and later as a hospital janitor. She would have two more children and marry a man named Robert Petty, who worked at the old Republic Steel plant and whose family had arrived years before from Mississippi by way of Kentucky.

They found themselves hemmed into the worn-out, predominantly black east side of Cleveland, with other refugees from the South. He worked the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift; she worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. He played the numbers and bet the horses at Thistledown to help make the rent on their apartment, in a dilapidated four-flat owned by an Eastern European woman who saw no need to keep it up.

They finally saved up for a two-story house with aluminum siding in the suburbs. The white neighbors began moving out shortly thereafter, a common response to black efforts to move up in most every receiving station in the North.

Millie — now Mrs. Petty — went about recreating the things she missed from the “old country.” She planted collard greens and watermelons and raised chickens in the backyard. She cooked neck bone and made hogshead cheese, singing hymns — “I’m coming up on the rough side of the mountain” — as she worked. Sundays, she ushered at a storefront Baptist church in her belted navy dress with white gloves and collar, perfumed with her one indulgence, Chanel No. 5.

After lives of work and want, both she and her husband died in their 50s, she of cancer and he of a heart attack after losing a lung from asbestos exposure at the plant. Their early deaths left the family ungrounded, without the close networks that had sustained their Southern ancestors. The daughter, Darlette Pinkston, suffered for it. Her marriage did not last, and she began living with a man who beat and threatened her until, fearing for her life, she killed him. Her daughter, Samaria, was 12 when she testified at the trial to the abuse she had witnessed and then lost her mother to prison for 15 years.

Samaria moved between foster homes and then to the streets. She dropped out of school in ninth grade, worked odd jobs, cleaning and doing clerical work, and had four children, the youngest of whom was Tamir.

She got tutors for her children, managed to get the oldest through high school and the others on track to finish. Tamir had swimming and soccer lessons and “Iron Man” DVDs. He had suffered such separation anxiety that she had to send him to nursery school with a picture of herself so he would know he would see her again.

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2014, a Saturday, she let Tamir and his sister Tajai go to the recreation center by the park across the street before dinner. She was starting the lasagna when there was a knock at the door. Two children told her that Tamir had been shot. She didn’t believe them. “No, not my kids,” she told them. “My kids are in the park.” A neighbor boy had let Tamir play with his pellet gun without her knowing it. “I hadn’t seen the gun before,” she told me. “They knew better than to let me see it.”

When she arrived, the officers would not let her near her son to comfort him as he lay bleeding on the ground, she said. They told her they would put her in the squad car if she didn’t stay back.

As in the majority of the 21st-century cases of police shootings in the North, no one was prosecuted in the death of Tamir Rice. Late last December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him. Decades ago, in the Jim Crow South, Emmett Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury, but at least they had gone to trial.

I asked Michael Petty, Tamir’s great-uncle and a retired chaplain’s assistant in the Navy, how Millie, his mother, would have borne what happened to the great-grandson she never lived to see, in the place she traveled so far to reach. It would have crushed her, Mr. Petty said. “My mother would have carried that hurt,” he said, “and felt the pain of the generations.”

Isabel Wilkerson is the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” and a former New York Times correspondent.

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COMMENTS

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