Update 2:38 pm EST Dec. 28
On Monday, a Cleveland grand jury declined to indict the two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice.
In November 2014, a 12-year-old boy went to play with his toy gun in a park not far from his Cleveland home.
The 911 dispatcher who took the call failed to alert the police of this vital detail. Around two seconds after his car arrived on the scene, Police Officer Timothy Loehmann stepped out and shot the young boy.
The boy was then left to bleed on the ground for four minutes before he received medical attention. And it wasn't Loehmann or his partner who assisted the wounded boy, it was an FBI agent who happened to be around at the time.
The boy died the next day. His name was Tamir Rice.
Rice died because of police incompetence. He died because we live in an inherently violent society with a deeply-flawed criminal justice system.
He died because he lived in a city in which police have a well-documented history of excessive force. He died because he was an African-American boy playing outside with a toy gun.
Yet, last week, when the city of Cleveland filed a court document in regard to the shooting, it blamed Rice for the fact that he was shot and killed.
Instead of holding the police department accountable for what happened, the city argued that Tamir failed "to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
Indeed, rather than entertaining the possibility that police had made an error, it chose to stigmatize yet another African-American child.
Police have a dangerous job, but they're still accountable for their actions.
Cleveland's mayor has since apologized for the city's callous characterization of Rice's death and the city will be filing a new document with less insensitive language.
None of this will make up for what happened. Nor will it change the fact that police in the United States are consistently over-defensive, regardless of how wrong and misguided they may be.
We saw this recently after two NYPD officers were brutally killed. Many NYPD officers did not take kindly to Mayor Bill de Blasio's comments surrounding race and policing, and turned their backs on him when he spoke at the officer's funerals.
The mayor had spoken candidly and poignantly about a very palpable issue in the US, but a number of NYPD officers wouldn't have it.
Police across America won't accept anything short of blind support, in spite of the numerous inadequacies of our criminal justice system. In their view, they're above criticism due to the nature of their profession.
No one is denying the fact that police have a dangerous and difficult job. They put their lives on the line every day and many of them genuinely desire to serve and protect the public.
We also can't blame them for the fact that many of our laws perpetuate a system that's fundamentally discriminatory toward minorities.
Yet, this doesn't mean they shouldn't be held accountable for what they do in the line of duty. The Cleveland police department failed Tamir Rice, and he died as a consequence.
Rice was shot and killed by an officer who never should've been on the force in the first place.
Timothy Loehmann had resigned from a previous police job due to the fact he was "emotionally unstable and unfit for duty." He also had a dubious history in terms of his handling of firearms.
You can't fail to tell police every detail of 911 calls, employ officers with troubled histories and not take responsibility for it when something goes wrong. That's the textbook definition of denial.
Correspondingly, as Jon Stewart recently stated:
You can truly grieve for every officer who has been lost in the line of duty in this country and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards. The point is this: Raising these issues is not the same thing as denigrating the police. It's a plea to push past the defensiveness and try to get to the reality and make things better.
Indeed, we don't criticize police as a product of ungratefulness, but out of a desire to make this country the very best it can be. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing you have one.
Our criminal justice system is discriminatory and deeply flawed.
We've had a tumultuous year in relation to racism and police brutality. In the wake of the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, America erupted in debate and protest over policing and race.
Old wounds were reopened. Or perhaps they'd never really healed, but were simply made more visible.
It's no secret that the US has a difficult history when it comes to race. From slavery to Jim Crow to Rodney King, many aspects of this country's past are complicated, reprehensible and violent.
Regardless of the debates over the circumstances of their killings, the debate surrounding Brown and Garner reminds us that racism is still alive and well in the US. Unfortunately, this is particularly true when it comes to the criminal justice system.
We were reminded of this quite recently when musician John Legend took the stage at the Oscars to accept the award for Best Original Song. He took the opportunity to highlight some startling facts surrounding incarceration in the United States, stating:
We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.
Race is still a major issue in the US.
We can't prove unequivocally that the deaths of Brown, Garner and Rice were motivated by race. Yet, given the character of our criminal justice system and the history of this country, it's difficult not to come to that conclusion.
Which leads to the question: Would police have reacted the same way to Tamir had he been white?
Statistically, the odds were against Rice. Young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white peers. Moreover, African Americans have the highest probability of being killed by police.
Additionally, the Department of Justice recently determined the Ferguson police department habitually violates the constitutional rights of blacks.
This comes just several months after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed 18-year-old, African-American Michael Brown, who was unarmed at the time.
And just this week, cops in Los Angeles shot and killed a black homeless man with a reputed history of mental illness.
Police have a job that requires violence, but it's imperative we continue to analyze and critique the motives and methods surrounding their use of force.
Furthermore, while this is a convoluted subject and it's painful to discuss, whites and minorities live starkly different realities in the United States. Until we fully recognize this truth, nothing will change.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.
Citations: Its Tamir Rices fault (Washington Post), In America black children dont get to be children (Washington Post), Officer Who Killed Tamir Rice Found Unfit in Previous Police Job (NBC News), New Yorkers to NYPD Dont turn your backs on de Blasio (Washington Post), Police Turn Their Backs on Mayor During Second NYPD Officer Funeral (Time), Cleveland police shot and killed black 12 year old Tamir Rice as he carried a toy gun (Vox), Tamir Rice family attorney says unbelievable that city of Cleveland court filing blames Tamir for his own death (Washington Post), Hear the 911 call about Tamir Rice Gun is probably fake caller says (Los Angeles Times), Tamir Rice Might Be Alive Today If A 911 Dispatcher Had Shared A Crucial Detail With Police (Think Progress), Who Police Killed in 2014 (Think Progress), Justice Department Finds Cleveland Police Use Excessive Force (Wall Street Journal), Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson Apologizes for Tamir Rice Blame Language (NBC News), Bill De Blasio Expresses Concern For The Safety Of His Biracial Son (Huffington Post), Ferguson Police Routinely Violate Rights of Blacks Justice Dept Finds (New York Times), John Legend is right Prisons are disproportionately black The worst states are some of the whitest (Washington Post), Fact checking John Legends claim that we live in the most incarcerated country in the world (Politifact), What John Legend said about slavery at the Oscars (Politifact)