Injustice multiplied by 34,560,000 in Cleveland
It took two seconds for cops to execute the 12-year-old Cleveland boy Tamir Rice, but prosecutors got 400 days to carefully "exonerate" the two officers, in a case that says so much about the state of injustice in America.
It was cold and raw in Cleveland today -- high of 41, drizzle turning into a cold, punishing rain over the course of the afternoon. Exactly the kind of day that the prosecutors and the politicians love for announcing a gross miscarriage of justice. You just knew that it would be this kind of day (i.e., brutal for anyone who dares to think about protesting in the streets) that the authorities in Ohio's largest city would choose to announce no charges in the shoot-first-ask-questions-later 2014 killing of the 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was playing in a city park with a fake gun. Just as you knew, deep in your heart, that no one would ever be held accountable for one of the worst injustices in the era of #BlackLivesMatter.
It took less than two seconds for two Cleveland police officers -- Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback -- to assess the situation (after pulling up right next to Tamir at a high rate of speed) and determine the only way to deal with what turned out to be an adolescent with a replica gun was a form of capital punishment. But it took exactly 400 days for prosecutors and The System to work meticulously toward the outcome that all but the most hopelessly naive knew was preordained. In other words, according to my calculations, what the system calls justice for Officers Loehmann and Garmback got 34,560,000 times more thought and consideration than real justice for Tamir.
That sounds typical.
I watched Ohio prosecutor Timothy McGinty and his announcement earlier today that a grand jury had declined to issue criminal charges in the case. He said all the right things -- like a man who'd spent 400 days carefully preparing for this very moment. And in the end, he pinned everything that happened that frigid afternoon on Cleveland in November 2014 on one thing: The enormous leeway that our current laws provide to law enforcement to use deadly force when that officer self-determines that his life is in danger. Of course he pinned everything on that -- because just about everything else about this case seemed so, so wrong.
Like the lies that the police tried to peddle, that Loehmann told Tamir at least three times -- "continuously," he initially told investigators -- to "show me your hands," when instead the video would show that their police cruiser hadn't even come to a full stop when he gunned Tamir down. Even that guy from the FedEx commericials a few years back couldn't say "show me your hands" three times in less than two seconds.
Or like the inhuman way that the officers acted in the immediate aftermath, when -- just as has been the case in other high-profile police shootings of black suspects that have been captured on video -- there was no urgency to saving the life of a seriously wounded human being as he or she lay dying.
Columnist Charles Blow addressed this aspect of this case in a piece earlier this year. He noted that Tamir's 14-year-old sister raced to the scene, only to be tackled by officers, handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police cruiser, "just feet away from where her brother was bleeding out onto the snow-dappled ground." Added Blow: "Four minutes passed without anyone offering the boy aid or comfort. Four long minutes he lay there, still alive, with the burn of a bullet in his abdomen.How excruciating must the pain have been? How slowly must the time have passed?"
Then there's the way that -- as happened in Ferguson or in the Sandra Bland case -- the process was rigged up to reach a pre-determined outcome. Before the grand jury, McGinty only called "expert" witnesses who called the shooting of the 12-year-old "reasonable," and according to lawyers for the Rice family, allowed the two officers to read self-serving prepared statements to the grand jurors but didn't follow-up with questioning. These are two more of the many things that stink about this case, including the fact that Cleveland hired Loehmann -- who left one suburban police force after a poor review and was unable to get on with other nearby departments -- in the first place, as well as the fact that a 911 dispatcher failed to tell the officers that the call involved a kid with a gun that was "probably fake."
But maybe the biggest injustice laid bare in Cleveland is the ever-growing gap between the most narrow, legalistic definition of right and wrong that we use to protect the powerful, and the larger, real-world morality that we tend to toss in the trash. "Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law," the author and policing critic Radley Balko wrote in the Washington Post earlier this year. "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."
Most of us know in our hearts that this situation where a 12-year-old boy in a predominantly black neighborhood is judged a candidate for two seconds of extreme justice is horribly wrong, a symptom of a sick society. And thus it is disgusting when not one person is held accountable. That rips our hearts out -- although not as much as the fact that a kid in the 7th grade won't be going to his prom, won't fall in love or hold his first child or even, for chrissakes, see a Cleveland sports team finally win a championship...all because of those two horrible seconds that the world can never get back.
This afternoon, I heard the prosecutor McGinty say that what happened to Tamir could have happened to his own son or grandson. He sounded sincere -- yet hopelessly naive. It's just so hard to imagine cops making a two-second lethal misjudgment about the white kid of an affluent lawyer in the same way that they acted outside Cleveland's Cudell Recreation Center.
In the same vein, I was a bit flabbergasted that McGinty's biggest policy takeaway is that toymakers should be asked to stop making realistic-looking replica guns. OK, that's not the worst idea ever -- but it's also about 34.56 million miles away from the crux of what really went wrong in Cleveland on November 22, 2014. Instead of convincing toy companies to stop making guns that are fake, it seems much more important to convince our cops to start seeing black kids as real.