It’s Murder

2020-06-24T10:13:50-04:00January 12, 2015|

By Afi Scruggs

The extended video of the Tamir Rice shooting is jumpy, grainy, and 30 minutes long. That doesn’t matter. I’ve watched it twice.

I couldn’t let it run uninterrupted. I stopped and scrolled, leaning into my computer to get a close-up view. I rewound the timeline and pushed it forward. Then I pulled it back again and took notes.

I can come to only one conclusion: Cleveland officers killed Tamir Rice without justification or excuse. They shot him and turned their backs while he died.

The choppy, pixelated video — released Wednesday, January 7, after three weeks of stalling by the city of Cleveland — doesn’t show details. We know officer Timothy Loehmann pulled the trigger because the Cleveland Police Department released his name and that of his partner, Frank Garmback, when the first short video clip of the shooting was made public in December.

But this new, longer video exposes stunning levels of callousness, recklessness, and disregard for human life by officers to whom we turn for protection.

They drove way too close to a person they suspected had a weapon — effectively endangering their own lives. Then they shot him before he had a chance to turn around.

When a distraught teenage girl ran to the scene, officers tackled her, and pushed back to the ground when she tried to get up. They handcuffed her. They threw her into the back of a squad car.

And then did nothing.

For more than three minutes Cleveland police officers hung out and ignored a youth lying on cold concrete. No one put on gloves — the first step in treating a victim. No one bent down to take a pulse or staunch a wound. The youth was ignored until an FBI officer arrived. The officers exhibited no apparent concern over whether the youth would — or could — live.

That’s not manslaughter, not homicide. It’s murder.

None of these facts are news. The details of Tamir Rice’s death have been circulating since November 22, when he was killed. Cleveland police and city officials released an excerpt of the surveillance video in December. His mother Samaria Rice told how police treated her son and her daughter — the girl in the car — at a press conference on December 8.

But the video first disseminated by Cleveland.com, is shocking confirmation of the devastating portrait sketched in the Department of Justice report on the Cleveland police released last month.

“There is reasonable cause to believe that (Cleveland Division of Police) engages in … a practice of using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” the DOJ says. “We found that CDP officers commit tactical errors that endanger both themselves and others in the Cleveland community and, in some instances, may result in constitutional violations.”

Evidence appears 14 seconds into the video, when the police car speeds into the frame. Garmback drives so close to the gazebo where Rice is strolling that both officers could have been killed immediately if the youngster had a real gun.

“CDP officers too often use dangerous and poor tactics to try to gain control of suspects, which results in the application of additional force or places others in danger,” the report continues.

Fast forward to 1:42, when the teenage girl runs toward her brother. Officers don’t just restrain her; they block her so hard she falls to the ground. Then they roll over her as she tries to get up.

TamirIt’s easy to scapegoat Loehmann and Garmback as outliers — or to complain the public doesn’t understand the hazards of police work. But one-third of the city’s police force aimed 137 bullets at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams when their backfiring car was mistaken for a gunshot. Tanisha Anderson would be alive today if Cleveland police officers had known how to safely subdue a woman in the throes of a mental illness crisis.

Technicalities and legalities can’t justify a pattern of inexcusable actions. Former Cleveland fiscal manager Shawn Gidley would seem to agree; he resigned December 17, saying “the Department of Public Safety and the City of Cleveland is no longer an employer for which I am proud to work.”

The video is as harsh as the mindset it exposes: an “us-against-them” mentality that, the DOJ warns, risks turning Cleveland police into “an occupying force instead of a true partner and resource in the community it serves.”

For 30 minutes, we see nonchalant officers taking care of business that doesn’t include a morsel of compassion for the boy suffering at their feet.

Cleveland officers shot Tamir Rice and turned their backs while he died. That’s not manslaughter or homicide.

It’s murder.

Afi Scruggs is a former reporter and columnist for The Plain Dealer. She lives in Cleveland, where she writes and plays bass.

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14 Comments

  1. Amanda Shaffer January 12, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Callous and heartless. The official response from Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis that the officers had no way of knowing that the girl was Tamir’s sister struck me as an especially cruel falsehood. Can anyone believe she was not screaming “That’s my brother!” and begging to be allowed to go to him?

  2. Stacy January 12, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Afi, I agree with your conclusion. It was a completely unnecessary, hasty action and the aftermath on tape leaves little to question. However, if I recall correctly, the recording of the dispatch call made by the officers after shots were fired does make the officer sound as if he is pleading to get some EMS help on the scene. He says something like “get someone out here now.” I believe your piece should address this audio evidence. No doubt someone was thinking after they could tell he was a child that the situation was not good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. dickpeery January 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Great and to the point. Murder has always been the prerogative of inner city police. Now we have Big Brother to prove it.

  4. Eric S. January 12, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    What is so troubling about this whole case is something I really haven’t seen expresses to this point. Looking back, with 20/20 hindsight, we know that Tamir Rice was not a danger. He had a toy gun. I am perplexed that those who defend the officers actions do so not in the sense of “it was a terrible tragedy but the officer couldn’t have known the gun was fake and therefore not at fault.” But rather, even with the information they now possess, they double down and say “the kid was a thug that deserved to die because he was stupid.” I just don’t get that mentality. These same people who probably go to church on Sunday have so little regard for human life, or perhaps it only applies to the life of a person from certain ethnic backgrounds. I truly find it hard to believe that if Tamir Rice was a white kid from the suburbs there’d be as much support for this inept officer.

    • Practice Man January 15, 2015 at 11:28 pm

      Eric S-I actually DO hear a lot of “it was a terrible tragedy but the officer couldn’t have known the gun was fake and therefore not at fault”…or similar comments that tend to see some complexity in the situation. I think the officers were inept, incompetent and sloppy and not given all of the information that the dispatcher possessed. I also don’t think the officers’ behavior (some of which IS callous) amounts to criminal behavior.

      Ms Scruggs is entitled to her emotional outburst, I guess.

      • Afi Scruggs January 16, 2015 at 6:02 pm

        Practice Man, denigrating my anger as an emotional outburst is quite sexist. Women are hysterical; men are passionate.
        I castigated the responding Cleveland officers because they stood around for 3 minutes without helping Tamir. I didn’t get that fact from the video. I learned it from the Deputy Chief of the Cleveland Division of Police.
        You obviously don’t agree. That’s the beauty of opinion. But I don’t disrespect your stance by calling it callous and uncaring.

  5. Richard January 16, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    @ Practice Man

    Attempting to dismiss Ms Scruggs’ angry but well-reasoned argument as an “emotional outburst” fails the test of appropriate civic dialogue. The community — all of us — should be angry at the institutionalized ineptitude, incompetence, and sloppiness of too many police actions. There is an undeniable pattern and practice here that endangers suspects, bystanders, and the police themselves, all of whom deserve better.

    And by the way, such patterned ineptitude can be and often is the basis for criminal charges, especially when it amounts to reckless indifference.
    Have you asked yourself how the police tactics employed here could have ended up differently when the officers rolled up on Tamir with the officer’s gun already drawn? Virtually anything Tamir did at that point was going to get him killed.

    • Practice Man January 19, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      Richard…

      “The community — all of us — should be angry at the institutionalized ineptitude, incompetence, and sloppiness of too many police actions. There is an undeniable pattern and practice here that endangers suspects, bystanders, and the police themselves, all of whom deserve better. ”

      I agree with this. What I don’t agree with is holding that opinion and coming to the conclusion the the police officer(s) should be charged with murder. Merely because you feel like “this is the most upset I’ve ever been with the police”…does not rate a murder charge. And that’s what I read in Ms. Scruggs’ piece.

      And…I do not think it is accurate to conclude that Tamir Rice would have been shot no matter what he did. I think the police handled it terribly (especially rolling up so close), but, at the critical moment, Tamir Rice reached for the gun (unless of course, we choose not to believe that…leave that to a grand jury). A police officer, supplied with information that someone (not told it’s a child) is threatening with a gun and then, due to his partner’s choice to drive close, is put a few feet from someone (who weighs nearly 200 pounds) who is apparently producing a weapon. Quick decision made…tragedy.

      Not a murder. No criminal charges should be brought, and thoughtful people, who would prefer that charging decisions NOT be turned over to the mob, should have the courage to say so.

      • Richard January 21, 2015 at 9:52 am

        @ Practice Man. I am dubious at the police claim that Tamir was reaching for his gun. He wasn’t Billy the Kid. What I do suspect is that the officer who killed him already had his gun drawn and was ready to fire.

        While every case must be considered based on its own evidence — admittedly a job for the judicial system [prosecutor/grand jury/ judge/petit jury/defense counsel] — it is a gross mistake not to look at pattern and practice. When we do take patterns and practices, the predisposition of peace officers to shoot black males is clear and irrefutable.

        In sum, the officer’s “quick decision” was essentially made well before the actual encounter.

        • Practice Man January 21, 2015 at 1:12 pm

          Something suggests to me that you would view yourself as a civil libertarian. Let me ask you a question. Would you favor utilizing “patterns and practices” only for the police when deciding whether or not to charge an individual officer with a crime? How would you feel about other groups of people? When police/prosecutors are considering charges for other individuals, would you favor considering the “patterns and practices” of other people with similar characteristics to the individual suspect? People with the same job? People of the same ethnic or racial group? Gender?

          You would agree, wouldn’t you, that police officers deserve the same civil rights guarantees and protections as everyone else, don’t you?

          • Richard January 21, 2015 at 1:54 pm

            @PracticeMan —

            You badly miscontrue my last statement to the point of failing to grasp it at all. Perhaps that is my error in failing to say it in a way that you might understand. Therefore, I will try again before signing off this thread.

            1. To quote myself: “every case must be considered based on its own evidence — admittedly a job for the judicial system [prosecutor/grand jury/ judge/petit jury/defense counsel] —”

            The officers deserve the protections afforded by the legal process even though inherent bias in the system means that in the vast majority of cases, white folks and white police officers in particular, get better outcomes than others committing similar acts who are not white and not police officers.

            2. There is a systemic problem in our judicial system — not just in the Cleveland Police Department — such that police officers are often exculpated for criminal acts that we call “bad judgment” but because the officers had to make “split-second decisions” that resulted in “tragedy”.

            3. I submit that the weight of our society has often indicted, tried and convicted black citizens in the court of public opinion such that the results identified in the preceding paragraph are almost foreordained by the time the officers are in a position to make those “split-second decisions”. So we have messy street executions that while characterized as unfortunate, leave too many Americans feeling that the victims somehow deserved their fate.

            Thus, we get police spokesmen saying that the execution of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams was a “good killing” [quote may not be totally precise] after 1/3 of the PEACE officers on duty chase, corner, and execute an unarmed pair of black people.

            The question is not why some people are angry, including some very intelligent and highly educated people like A. O. Scruggs, PhD — people who are more than capable of keeping their emotions subject to their intellect. The question is why more people aren’t angry.

            I submit at least part of the answer is that Tamir was a black boy in the inner city and not a toy-gun wielding towheaded cherub named Osgood Carrington Hapgood IV hailing from Rocky River.

            The US Justice Department documented hundreds of cases over a few short years where police used excessive force against citizens. That degree of abuse represents disparities in political, social, and economic power, notwithstanding Cleveland’s status as a majority-black city.

  6. Practice Man January 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    You said this…

    “I am dubious at the police claim that Tamir was reaching for his gun. He wasn’t Billy the Kid. What I do suspect is that the officer who killed him already had his gun drawn and was ready to fire.”

    You also said this…

    “In sum, the officer’s “quick decision” was essentially made well before the actual encounter.”

    Seems to me that you’ve made up your mind.

    I appreciate the anger…it’s justifiable. I also know and understand the definition of murder (and the affirmative defenses). I also understand why police shootings are demonstrably different from encounters between two “regular” citizens where someone ends up dead.

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