Moral Low Ground


12-Year-Old Tamir Rice Shot Dead by Cleveland Police while Holding Toy Gun

Tamir RiceA 12-year-old Cleveland boy is dead after being shot by police who mistook his toy gun for a real firearm.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports two Cleveland police officers were called to a park near the Cudell Recreation Center on the city’s west side in response to a report of a “man” pointing a gun at people in the park.

The caller told the dispatcher he saw “a guy with a pistol” on the swing set pulling a weapon from his pants and “scaring the shit out of everyone.” The caller added that “the gun was probably fake.”

Officers responding to the scene say they saw Tamir take what they believed was a pistol — but what was in fact a realistic-looking Airsoft replica BB gun —  from a picnic table under a gazebo where he was sitting with a group before stuffing the weapon in his waistband. A first-year police officer, who has not yet been named, exited his patrol vehicle and ordered Rice to raise his hands.

Instead, police claim the child reached for his “gun,” pulling it from his waistband. The boy did not point the toy at officers, nor did he verbally threaten them. The rookie officer then fired two shots from a distance of no more than 10 feet (3 meters), striking Tamir at least once in the abdomen.

Rice was rushed to MetroHealth Medical Center in serious condition and died early Sunday.

Multiple peaceful protests, including a demonstration at Public Square and a rally at the Cudell Recreation Center, took place over the weekend.

Tajai Rice, Tamir’s sister, spoke at the westside rally.

“I don’t know why they did that. He was only 12,” she said. “He wanted to play basketball in the NBA. He loved everybody. If he were still alive, he would say thank you and he would love you too.”

“The police don’t even stop and think, they just shoot, a little black, 12-year-old child is dead, he had a BB gun, he shouldn’t be dead, we’re tired of it,” Akron resident Dex Sims told Fox 8 Cleveland.

“This is part of an epidemic of police violence against black and latino youth…it’s part of an actual genocide,” added northeast Ohio resident Bill Swain.

City leaders urged patience and restraint while authorities investigate Rice’s death.

“Perhaps, after our analysis, we learn that the police officer really did fear for his life and did everything right under the circumstances,” City Councilman Jeffrey Johnson said during a Monday night meeting. “But there is something fundamentally broken in our system when a young man can have a legal BB gun, and by the end of that day be killed by a Cleveland police officer.”

Councilwoman Dona Brady said that the closure of mini-police stations and the elimination of community-embedded officers played a role in Rice’s death.

“I found out that everyone knew Tamir,” Brady said at the Monday night meeting. “Everyone knew him, except the police. … If there were an officer assigned to a mini-station in Cudell, that officer would have been aware that this young man was a harmless 12-year-old.”

The two officers who responded to the 911 call which led to the deadly encounter with Rice have been placed on administrative leave.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said the officers did not know Rice’s gun was not real.

“Guns are not toys, the facsimile weapon in this incident is indistinguishable from a real firearm,” Williams stressed to reporters.

Rice’s death is the second high-profile police killing in Cleveland this month. On November 13, Tanisha Anderson, a 37-year-old mentally ill woman, died after police slammed her to the pavement outside her family’s home in the 1300 block of Ansel Road.

The fatal police shooting of Rice came as the nation braced for a decision from the Missouri grand jury tasked with deciding whether or not to indict Darren Brown, the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown on August 9. The grand jury did not indict Wilson, sparking a night of protest, some of it violent, in Ferguson and in cities across the nation.

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