On Monday, a grand jury decided not indict Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014. At time of the shooting, Rice was in a park, playing with an air gun he had borrowed from a friend. Loehmnann fired his weapon at the boy within two seconds of arriving on the scene.
It’s now been over a year since Tamir’s death, and for many, the ensuing case has been a frustrating series of delays and injustices. For many, today’s decision is heartbreaking — but not surprising. The Rice family had this to say in a statement:
“It has been clear for months now that the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty was abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment.
“Even though video shows the police shooting Tamir in less than one second, Prosecutor McGinty hired so-called expert witnesses to try to exonerate the officers and tell the grand jury their conduct was reasonable and justified.
“It is unheard of, and highly improper, for a prosecutor to hire ‘experts’ to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation. These are the sort of ‘experts’ we would expect the officer’s criminal defense attorney to hire — not the prosecution.”
Aviva Shen at Think Progress detailed the timeline of the investigation in October, echoing the belief, held by many supporters of the Rice family, that McGinty intentionally “prolonged the investigation and hindered the case.” According to Shen, Tamir’s case sits in stark contrast to similar ones:
“Tamir Rice’s family has waited for a decision to move forward with the case for almost a full year, while other high profile police shootings around the country have reached decisions over indictments in a matter of days or weeks. McGinty has not yet presented the sheriff’s investigation to the grand jury, which has been in his hands since June. With the release of the most recent report, McGinty has suggested it could take well over a year to decide to indict the officers, let alone to begin to try the case.
“With each delay in the process, the chances for indictment and successful prosecution of the officers grow slimmer. Witnesses move away, memories fade, and evidence tends to disappear.”
Monday, when the decision was finally announced, Vox’s German Lopez filled in some more context. His piece detailed the factors that led to the shooting of Tamir Rice, from the police’s misperception of his size and age to the failure of the dispatcher to mention that his gun was probably a toy and to systemic problems with training in the Cleveland police department. Race, says Lopez, is also an important component:
“Black teens were 21 times as likely as white teens to be shot and killed by police between 2010 and 2012, according to a ProPublica analysis of the FBI data. ProPublica’s Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara reported: ‘One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring — 185, more than one per week.’
“The disparities appear to be even starker for unarmed suspects, according to an analysis of 2015 police killings by the Guardian. Racial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police.”
According to CNN, prosecutor McGinty expressed remorse over Tamir’s death, calling it an “absolute tragedy,” but was adamant about the legality of everything that had taken place:
“The state must be able to show that the officers acted outside the constitutional boundaries set forth by the Supreme Court of these United States.
“Simply put: Given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police.”
But Radley Balko of the Washington Post said back in March that talking about legality can take us only so far. While what Loehmann did may have been legal in the strictest sense of the word, Balko writes,
“We shouldn’t be asking if the police actions were legal or within department policy; we should be asking if they were necessary. Or if you’d like to use a word with a bit more urgency behind it, we should ask if they’re acceptable.
“Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.”
The U.S. Department of Justice says it will continue a separate investigation of Tamir’s death:
“The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been monitoring the investigation that has been conducted regarding the death of Tamir Rice on Nov. 22, 2014. We will continue our independent review of this matter, assess all available materials and determine what actions are appropriate, given the strict burdens and requirements imposed by applicable federal civil rights laws.
Additionally, the Department of Justice continues in its efforts to pursue ongoing and comprehensive reform pursuant to the consent decree in the federal, civil pattern and practice case filed before Chief Judge Solomon Oliver in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.”