I can’t say that my entire stay in Cleveland has been pleasant. Not this week.
Cleveland Police today released surveillance video that recorded the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. Rice is a 12-year-old boy who was holding what turned out to be a toy airsoft gun when he was shot by a police officer at a community park on the city’s west side on Saturday. Rice died early Sunday.
The video shows a police officer shooting Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene. What I found even more profoundly saddening about the entire tragedy is that the two officers waited four minutes before delivering first aid to Rice who lay bleeding on the snow-covered grass.
Rice was shot twice in the abdomen at close range, dropped to the ground immediately, but received no attention until a passer-by assisted.
Rice wasn’t given first aid until a medically trained FBI agent on duty in the area arrived at the scene — Cudell Recreation Center on the city’s West Side.
Police were responding to a 9-1-1 caller’s report that someone waving “a pistol” at the park. The caller said it may be a toy and that the person was “probably a juvenile”. The dispatcher did not relay that information to the officers.
In an editorial published just a few hours after the surveillance tape was released, The Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com wrote that the police have some serious explaining to do.
The account Cleveland police gave of the shooting by a rookie police officer does not seem to match what the video reveals.
The police said two officers, responding to a 9-1-1 call, went to the park and saw Tamir take what they thought was a pistol from a table under a gazebo in the park and stuff it in his waistband. Police said that the boy was sitting with a group at the time.
Police also said that the officers told Tamir three times to raise his hands, and that when he reached for what they thought was a real pistol, he was shot.
The video, however, shows officers in a cruiser pull up within several feet of Rice, who was not with a group, but by himself underneath a gazebo. Immediately, even before the car stops rolling, the cruiser’s passenger side door opens, an officer emerges and fires at Tamir, who drops to the ground.
Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said the officers ordered Tamir to “show your hands” three times from the ajar passenger door, but it’s hard to believe that’s possible based on the video.
The shot that struck Tamir appears to have been fired the very moment the officer stands up after getting out of the car. If this is the proper technique for confronting an armed gunman, let alone a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun, one has to wonder what training manual they are consulting.
And more crucial questions:
Why did the officers drive right up to Tamir? Why didn’t they park further away, climb out of their car and shield themselves with a door or another section of the car, and then order Tamir to drop his weapon?
Indeed, many questions to answer.
The video was released at the request of Rice’s family. They didn’t meet with the press but did issue the following statement.
“We have seen the video that shows our son, Tamir, being shot and killed by a City of Cleveland police officer. It is our belief that this situation could have been avoided and that Tamir should still be here with us.
The video shows one thing distinctly: the police officers reacted quickly. It is our hope that the City of Cleveland Division of Police and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office thoroughly examine the events outside of the Cudell Recreation Center on Nov. 22, 2014.
Again, we ask for the community to remain calm. Please protest peacefully and responsibly. Your prayers, kind words and condolences have meant so much to us.
We understand that some of you are hurt, angry and sad about our loss. But let’s use those emotions in a way that will contribute to positive efforts and solutions that bring change to Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and cities across the nation as it relates to how law enforcement officials interact with citizens of color.
We thank the City of Cleveland Division of Police for making the video public. We will await the results of their investigation.”
Protests took place in downtown Cleveland over the past two days, in response to both the Tamir Rice shooting and in the aftermath of Monday’s decision of a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri to not indict a police officer who killed an unarmed teenager in August. More demonstrations are expected.