Did Tamir Rice’s life matter? Doesn’t look like it

Imagine your boy, 12, playing in a park with his toy gun.

Imagine, in less than one second after arriving there, police officers firing and killing him.

Now imagine the prosecutor, charged with getting justice on his behalf, hiring an expert witness who convinces the jury instead that those officers’ response wasn’t just reasonable but just.

Wouldn’t it sting like death itself?

Well after more than a year of investigation, that’s what happened Monday in the case of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.

Despite video showing police shooting Tamir within seconds of arriving at the park, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty hired an expert witness who helped exonerate the officers.

The grand jury decided against an indictment, believing the argument that both Tim Loehmann, a rookie on the Cleveland police force, and his partner, Frank Garmback, feared for their lives.

No matter how many times I watch the video of Rice in the park that day, of the officers’ arrival on the scene, this fatal shooting just doesn’t make sense.

I will never forget listening to the news reports, feeling sick to my stomach and just sad about the recurring violence.

But I’m not a police officer. Tim Allen, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, is.

If Loehmann and Garmback believed Rice was armed, he doesn’t find their action unreasonable.

“Based on what I saw on the video, I personally don’t feel their actions were indictable,” Allen said. “Plus, this was a relatively large 12-year-old, and there was an error in communicating the caller thought he had a pellet gun. All those kinds of things have to be taken into account.”

Tamir’s death on Nov. 22, 2014, came just months after two other high-profile police incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, that ended with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner.

In Georgia, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation has found recently that nearly half the 184 Georgians shot and killed by police since 2010 were unarmed or shot in the back. Their findings cast doubt on claims by police that deadly force was always justified.

According to the report, the disproportionate number of blacks killed mirrors other studies undertaken since a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown and suggests that in Georgia, a state with one of the highest populations of black citizens, race is a factor in the use of deadly force.

Last year, massive protests and unrest followed news that police were cleared in Brown’s and Garner’s deaths. And when residents called for indictments against Loehmann and Garmback, Cleveland police sent the case to the Cuyahoga County sheriff’s department, which later provided its investigation to McGinty’s office in order to determine if any charges would be filed.

Monday we learned there would be none, and once again many African-Americans find themselves questioning the justice system.

McGinty told us that while the death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy, it was not, by law, a crime.

“The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it,” McGinty said Monday afternoon.

Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, believes McGinty deliberately sabotaged the case, that he never advocated for her son, and instead manipulated the grand jury process to get a vote against indictment.

“I don’t want my child to have died for nothing and I refuse to let his legacy or his name be ignored,” she told the media. “We will continue to fight for justice for him, and for all families who must live with the pain that we live with.”

Stephen Roberts, who ran the DeKalb County grand jury for two years during his tenure as an assistant DA, has a good idea how the grand jury process works.

“Anyone who does not think that the DA virtually controls the outcome has never been in a grand jury room. He is their legal adviser,” Roberts said. “I doubt a private citizen would go unindicted if they shot a boy with a toy pistol one second after encountering him.”

Whenever I write these kinds of stories, people like to point out to me the wretchedness of black folk in order to condone police brutality. But itemized accounts of pathology in one group doesn’t justify it in another.

The fact that African-Americans are killing other African-Americans shouldn’t be regarded with complacency. That hardly justifies police — black or white — shooting and killing someone without repercussions when warranted.

We live in a society where many people show indifference for human life; that in turn leaves us empty and bewildered.

We become what we see and what we don’t. That includes our lack of compassion for the pain of others and our unwillingness to speak out against injustice and, in some instances, to even acknowledge it.

I’m reminded of Martin Niemoeller, the pacifist who spoke out against the failure of Germans to speak out against the Nazis.

“First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist,” Niemoeller said. “Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

If we don’t speak up now for those like Tamir Rice, we may find that there is no one there to speak for us when our time comes.

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