by Peter Pattakos
Last week, a spokesman for Mayor Frank Jackson brushed off the idea that Cleveland had anything to learn from Ferguson, Missouri, where the killing of an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, by police has caused massive protests and civil unrest. “Questions about lessons learned from Ferguson and the preparations Cleveland might take ahead of a similarly incendiary incident were unworthy of a response,” said Jackson spokesman Daniel Williams, according to the Plain Dealer’s Brandon Blackwell.
A few days later, a Cleveland police officer shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, allegedly because the officer felt threatened by a realistic looking toy pellet gun that the boy had on his person.
The officers were responding to a 911 call reporting “a guy with a pistol” on a swing set at the Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland’s near west side, pulling the gun from his pants and “scaring the s—t out of everyone.”
The man who called 911 told dispatchers that the “guy” was “probably a juvenile,” and twice said that “the gun was probably fake,” an assumption that was corroborated by the fact that the gun was sitting on a picnic table under a gazebo where the boy was sitting with “a group of people” when the police arrived.
According to the police, the 911 caller’s statements that “the gun was probably fake” and that the “guy” was “probably a juvenile” were never relayed to the responding officers, who claim to have seen the boy take the gun from the picnic table when they arrived. From there, the officers claim that they “saw the boy put the gun in his waistband,” and when they “told him to put his hands in the air, he reached into his waistband and pulled it out,” at which point one of the officers shot him despite, according to Cleveland Police Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba, that “the child did not threaten the officer verbally or physically.”
Five days later, a list of questions remain unanswered in Cleveland’s only daily newspaper — or anywhere else. They include the following:
Why did dispatchers fail to relay the 911 caller’s repeated statements that the gun was probably fake? Is there any doubt that Tamir Rice would be alive today had this been revealed to the responding officers?
If the “group of people” who were sitting under the gazebo with Rice weren’t threatened by the toy gun, that was sitting on a picnic table when the police arrived, why were the police?
What did the police really say to Rice? What were the exact words that they used? In what manner did Rice reach for the toy gun in his waistband? With what speed? What’s behind Officer Tomba’s statement that “the child did not threaten the officer verbally or physically”?
How many witnesses saw this happen? What happened to the “group of people” who were sitting under the gazebo with Rice when he arrived? Why hasn’t a single one of them been quoted in a single news report?
Where is a copy of the recording of the dispatcher’s call to the officers who responded to the 911 call?
Instead of answering these questions, the folks at the Plain Dealer/Northeast Ohio Media Group published with a headline that stated the opinion of a gun industry lobbyist: “Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman calls Tamir Rice shooting ‘legitimate.’” This opinion, that the PD/NEOMG chose to amplify after a weekend where seven Clevelanders were killed by guns, is based on no more information than what’s presented above.
As of this morning, the gun lobbyist’s endorsement of Tamir Rice’s killing shares top billing at Cleveland.com with a column by Mark Naymik, who urges that people are paying too much attention to Rice and not enough to other people who’ve been recently killed in Cleveland by “real bad guys.” These other killings are getting “lost in the frenzy around Rice’s death,” according to Naymik, who writes that “there are a lot of bad guys running around Cleveland, but by and large the cops are not among them.”
All of which serves to distract from the issues that are most pertinent to Rice’s senseless death, which of course have nothing to do with whether police officers are “by and large bad guys” (of course, nobody reasonably thinks that’s true). But of course, a news outlet and political class that’s abandoned concern over runaway poverty, inequality and economic segregation might need to play dumb about the ugliest inevitable consequences of these social forces. Segregation begets disposability and more and more of both. How else could it be that not a single one of the “group of people” under the gazebo with Rice could manage to communicate to the cops that the kid’s gun was a toy? Police don’t shoot children; police eliminate what they’ve been conditioned to see as trash.
Which is to say that it’s no surprise that this Mayor and this news outlet would want to avoid questions about Tamir Rice and Ferguson, and that the rest of us need to start asking better questions soon. Michael Brown wasn’t the last one, and the way things are going, Tamir Rice sure won’t be, either.
Peter Pattakos is a Cleveland attorney and the publisher of Cleveland Frowns
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