Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback involved in the death of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old African-American boy, were not indicted by a grand jury for criminal charges. Probable charges were murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty weighed against Loehmann. This non indictment comes on the heels of a hung jury for the Freddie Grey case. Subsequently, the Freddie Grey case was declared a mistrial.
For those who don’t know the story, Rice was playing with a toy pellet gun in a historically violent Cleveland neighborhood. The 911 call advised there was “a guy with a pistol. It’s probably fake, but he’s pointing it at everybody.” City surveillance tape shows Officers Loehmann and Garmback pulling up to Rice as he is walking toward the car. The officers claimed Rice was moving the gun in his waistband. The tape shows Loehmann getting out of the car and firing to which Rice immediately drops from the video. He died the next day from the gun shot wounds.
This case is among many that have ignited debate regarding police use of force particularly against African-Americans. In several cases, grand juries felt they did not have enough evidence to indict these officers/vigilantes in the respective shootings. In the cases of Michael Brown and Freddie Grey, tensions over non-indictments boiled over causing riots throughout the city. Through all of these cases a clear message is being sent to the African-American community.
If an African-American is killed by the police, then it can and will be justified.
This message causes a severe mistrust in police and judicial efforts among the African-American community. Especially in cases where law enforcement officers are the subject of possible criminal charges.
Some will wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, plenty will disagree. Upholders of law enforcement actions will say what the citizen should or should not have done. Tamir shouldn’t have played with a toy gun. Freddie shouldn’t have ran. They all should have complied, and they would still be alive. They will point to black on black crime stats. Or, in this case, why 99% of police shootings are “legally and morally justified.” The officers did not know Rice was 12 as he was bigger than the average 12 year old boy.
Every. Single. Time.
Bear in mind, this is not a white cop/black kid issue although those dynamics should be considered should they be there. This is a cops and community issue that is turning into a cops vs the community issue. This can be seen in the narrative written for or against police use-of-force. It’s critical to look at the message being received by all parties.
There are two sides to an issue. Some say three sides inferring the two parties involved have their own version of the truth with the actual truth being the third option. The problem with this line of thinking is we only get one side of the situation. We won’t know what was going through Rice’s head, or his intent. The same can be said for several high profile cases with police shootings. However, we do have the involved officer’s account in which there is a guarantee they will justify their actions. Even with the advent of body cams, or city surveillance videos, the truth is debated. This leaves a large gap in accounts of the situation. Like it or not, we are no longer in the age of taking the police at their word. This does not sit will with some. Especially officers.
We are to trust the account of police officers because the job description is inherently good. They are to protect and serve the community with no bias. Thus, they receive the benefit of the doubt. Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) around the country rally behind their brothers and sisters every time these cases happen. Spouses, family members, and people who personally know police officers give unparalleled support be it verbal or financial. This is the thin blue line.
On the other hand, we have the community. These are the people who don’t have any direct personal ties to police officers, but they have an opinion in these cases as it ultimately affects their safety. The community gets a different side of the story. They hear from news media outlets, personal accounts of officers, and social media. In turn, their opinion on policing is shaped by these sources. Should they not like the actions, the protests begin.
Two different groups with vastly different views on a major societal problem pitted against each other. Law Enforcement and their supporters vs the community. In this case, the African-American community.
Where’s the disconnect?
First, we have to understand there are extremists on both sides. There are people that will support a cop no matter what. The same goes for the community hating a cop simply because of their profession. These people are a distraction to the problem.
Trust between police and the community.
If you ask most African-Americans, they do not trust the police even when the officer is black. Black children are taught to respect police, but understand rules are different for them. Events such as driving while black (DWB) are very real. Being followed for being a black person in the wrong neighborhood is a reality. And that’s regardless of those black folks who balk at this notion. Situations like Tamir Rice only serve to divide police and African-American community. If you ask police officers, then some will say they are fearful with the state of community relations. Every time a black male is killed, the police are put on trial via social media. In some cases, they are actually put on trial via the judicial system. After the trial, a federal investigation is opened into the police unit responsible for the situation, and the police officers may or may not go back to their respective squadrons.
By the time a federal investigation is opened, what’s done is done. The message has been conveyed and received. People will stew, argue, and protest until the next time a young black male is killed by the police, and we go through the same process all over again.
[Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]