Another controversial police shooting involving a black male. Let’s dig in.
To the layman, the video certainly appears that these officers drove into the situation with bloodlust just hoping to kill someone.
But there’s one blatant, obvious piece to this puzzle that everyone has been overlooking and that is that the officer who shot Tamir Rice wasn’t the one driving the car.
So let’s go over the details and cover some police tactics and training.
The person who called 911 reported a male pointing a pistol at people in the park. He also reported that the male was probably a juvenile and that the gun might be fake. The only information provided to the responding officers was that a male was pointing a gun at people. The dispatcher didn’t relay the additional information that Rice was likely a juvenile and that the gun was likely fake. There’s no way they could have had the foreknowledge that Tamir Rice was only 12 years old (which is actually irrelevant when it comes to being a potential threat) or that the pistol was a BB gun and not a more lethal gun.
So jump into the minds of the officers. On the way to the call they’re probably assuming that the male pointing the gun is an adult, because it’s extremely rare that a child has a pistol and even more rare that they’d be pointing it at people. They’re also probably assuming that the pistol IS NOT a BB gun, but the kind of gun that could end their lives in a flash.
They arrive at the location. Now this is where knowledge of police tactics (or lack thereof) can make someone misjudge how this all went down. You have officer Garmback driving the car and officer Loehmann in the passenger seat. I’m not sure how Cleveland police officers are trained but I’ll step out on a limb and say that they aren’t trained to drive right up to within mere feet of someone who has a gun. But that’s exactly what officer Garmback does. Why? I have no idea. Maybe he somehow didn’t see Tamir Rice until the last second. Maybe his training suddenly went out the window for some reason. But why he did it isn’t as important as the fact that he did it.
Officer Loehmann has no control over the car. He’s utterly at the mercy of how officer Garmback drives it. Garmback did Loehmann no favors by putting Loehmann’s door within mere feet of Rice and exposing him to possible danger. Rice, had he been carrying a “real” gun (BB guns ARE real guns but I digress) could have had the drop on those two officers, especially officer Loehmann, with the way Garmback drove up so close.
Again, at this point the officers have no way of knowing that 1) Tamir Rice is 12 years old (he was 5’7 and 195 pounds; the size of an NFL cornerback) or 2) that Rice’s pistol was a BB gun.
The video shows Rice reach down into his waistband with his right hand, at which point officer Loehmann must have seen the pistol. Maybe Rice was trying to show them the pistol to keep from alarming them but again, there’s no way officer Loehmann could have known if he was doing that or reaching for it with the intention of shooting at the officers. Loehmann, having been placed directly in the line of potential fire by Garmback’s horrible driving, shot Rice immediately upon getting out of the car. Notice at this point that Loehmann is not advancing on Rice as a bloodthirsty murderer, but instead immediately retreats to the rear of the police car to get to a safer distance and use the car as cover. This action indicates that Loehmann was obviously afraid that Rice’s pistol was a danger that could be used against him. Would someone intent on ruthlessly killing a 12 year old kid for no reason whatsoever retreat behind cover as if preparing to be shot at? Whether you agree or disagree with me up to this point you can’t deny that Loehmann was terrified, and justifiably so.
Rice’s BB pistol also had the orange safety tip removed further making it appear to be a real pistol.
Now listen, there is no question that Tamir Rice’s death is extremely tragic. I don’t believe the boy had any ill intentions towards the officers or anyone else. I don’t think most 12 year olds are capable of grasping the weighty ramifications of visibly brandishing what appears to be a real pistol, especially when police arrive on the scene. That’s what makes his death tragic. I wish an adult, preferably his parents, had told him that waving around a pistol and pointing it at people in the park was a bad idea.
But to say that officer Loehmann murdered him in cold blood is simply preposterous. His actions during and immediately after the shooting do not support such an accusation. Officers are required to make split second life-or-death decisions on the job and that’s what officer Loehmann did.
That’s literally how much time Loehmann had to make his decision. He chose to protect his own life, and given the limited information he had (man pointing a gun at people) I can’t find any fault in his decision. Again, if anything, I blame officer Garmback’s poor tactical decision to drive right up on Tamir Rice instead of approaching the scene with caution and stopping at a safer distance from Rice. Had Garmback done that, they might have had the opportunity to tell Rice to put his hands in the air and the whole thing could have been safely de-escalated. But when Garmback drove the car to within feet of Rice combined with Rice’s hand going to his waistband, Loehmann was only really left with one reasonable choice, and that was to shoot before he could be shot.
I know that explanation won’t satisfy most people, but then again most people have never suited up and performed the dangerous duty of a police officer. Most people have the luxury of hindsight and can pick a situation apart with all the time in the world from the safety of their living room. Police officers on the other hand don’t have such luxuries.
Criticism has also been leveled at the officers for inconsistencies or what appear to be lies about how the shooting happened. There are possible explanations for inconsistencies that don’t automatically mean they’re lying or trying to cover their tracks.
From Force Science…
ADRENALINE IMPACT. First, Lewinski points out, there’s the effect of adrenaline on memory.
“This has literally been studied for generations,” he says. “Most studies don’t even come close to exposing the research subject to the level of adrenaline surge an officer experiences in a gunfight or other life-threatening circumstance.
“Yet even so, findings from both animal and human studies suggest that when emotional arousal and adrenaline are involved, it takes some time after an incident for the experience to become settled, deeply entrenched, and consolidated in the brain. This adrenaline effect can extend, conservatively, up to a dozen hours or more after the incident, and some research suggests that memory consolidation for extremely stressful and fearful encounters can continue out to a week afterward. This extensive period of post incident consolidation is one of the reasons for the frequently very vivid recall of traumatic incidents. Usually any errors in recall about the event are not in the core but on the peripheral details and can be attributed to visual and attentional focus issues in the incident and not to post-incident contamination or erosion of the memory during the period of consolidation.
Read the rest of that article here it’s very informative on the effects a highly stressful situation can have on memory retention.
It’s quite possible that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the officers may have mis-remembered details such as whether Rice was by himself on the bench or with other people, or whether he told Rice to put his hands up before shooting.
Here’s another fun little exercise to show you an example of how it’s quite easy for human beings to completely miss something that’s plainly visible… let’s see if you can correctly count the number of times the people wearing white shirts pass the ball in this video. It’s an important experiment to help you understand how humans can be mistaken even after being prepared to be correct.
If you didn’t notice the hidden things in that video you’re not alone. It’s human nature to make mistakes. Now imagine being crucified by every media outlet and possibly being charged with a crime because you didn’t notice the gorilla or the changing curtain color or the person in the black shirt leaving the screen. That’s the kind of small margin of error police officers face each day.
Other objections I’ve heard…
“Rice was simply a kid playing with a toy! It’s what kids do!”
Rice’s “toy” gun was modeled after a Colt 1911. After the orange safety tip was removed it became virtually indistinguishable from a Colt 1911. Officers have to treat every realistic looking gun as if it IS a real gun until it can be safely determined that it’s a toy.
“But he wasn’t even pointing it at anyone!”
Be honest, if you were at the park with your kids and you saw someone doing what Rice is doing in that picture, you’d be alarmed. You’d probably gather your kids and leave. You’d probably call 911. Furthermore, the dispatcher had already told the officers that he was pointing the gun at people.
“But Ohio is an open carry state!”
Yes it is, but you have to be 18 to carry a firearm in Ohio. Rice was 12. Furthermore, open carry does not allow one to wave a gun around and point it in public in a menacing way for no reason whatsoever. That information is important. Had the officers been told “there’s a guy at the park wearing a gun openly on his hip, but he’s just sitting there not doing anything with it.” then it would be a slightly different situation. But that’s not what Rice was doing. Both the 911 caller and the officers were reasonable to think that Rice was behaving in a dangerous manner, not merely a person exercising his open carry rights. Which, frankly, is the reason that you have to be 18 to open carry, because (most) 12 year olds are not yet mature enough to understand the ramifications of having a pistol in public.
“But Rice never even had a chance to tell them the gun was fake. He never got a warning or anything!”
Contrary to popular belief, police aren’t required to give a warning if they reasonably feel their life is in immediate danger. And given how close Garmback put Loehmann to Rice combined with Rice’s right hand going into his waistband, Loehmann was under no obligation to give a warning.
“But shouldn’t the officer have waited to at least see if Rice was even trying to pull his gun out? Couldn’t the officer have then decided to shoot if Rice did in fact pull his gun and point it at the officers?”
In a perfect world, yes. In the movies, yes. But this article from Force Science shows that even if an officer already has his gun drawn and is on target, a suspect can still draw a gun and fire a round at the officer before the officer’s mind can register what he’s seeing and react appropriately. That’s why you always hear officers scream, “Get your hands up!” They want those hands as far away from any potential guns as possible. In Tamir Rice’s case, Rice was so close to Loehmann that when Rice’s hand went near the gun Loehmann felt he had no choice but to stop the threat before Rice could get a shot off.
Now, not every officer is going to do exactly what Loehmann did. I had a situation once where after chasing a burglar down an alley I finally got to within about 20 feet of him and he turned around and his hand went into his pocket. I had him in my sights and had slack out of the trigger and was just about to shoot when the burglar finally put his hands up and surrendered. But if I would have shot him I feel it would have been justified. If he had a gun in that pocket he could have whipped it out and fired at me before I could have registered what he was doing and shot first. So even though I didn’t shoot in my situation, I can’t find Loehmann at fault for what he did. Because the standard is if an officer reasonably fears for his life, and Loehmann had every REASON to believe his life would be in jeopardy if he didn’t shoot first.
“But neither of the officers provided first aid to Tamir Rice after the shooting, so obviously they wanted him to die or at the very least didn’t care if he did.”
Not necessarily true. Yes, they should have immediately provided first aid, but the fact that they didn’t does not necessarily mean they wanted him to die or didn’t care if he died. Believe it or not, being involved in a shooting is a highly traumatic and stressful event, even if you are not shot. That’s why they coined the term “shell shock” in the military. If you’ve never experienced combat there’s a good chance your first shooting is going to lead to shell shock. In fact the FBI agent that arrived and DID provide first aid to Rice stated that both officers appeared to be in shock. I can attest to this in a police shooting I was involved in as a rookie. A female officer had just called for cover because a man had attacked her while she was trying to arrest him for DWI. By the time we got to her, she was standing there with her pistol in her hand and the man was down on the ground wallowing and convulsing in a pool of his own blood. She said he had tried to take her gun away from her. I wasn’t even there when the shooting happened but even I was experiencing some level of shock. So many things were running through my mind because I had never been involved in something so stressful that it didn’t even occur to me to try to render first aid to the guy. A more experienced officer then arrived a minute or two later and kind of snapped us all back to reality and we ordered an ambulance for him and then followed all the procedure we were supposed to. I learned a lot from that event, but until I had gone through it, I was something of a deer in the headlights even with the training I had received. Given Loehmann’s inexperience and the fact that he had just shot someone it’s not surprising that jumping in to provide first aid didn’t immediately come to the forefront of his thoughts, even if it should have. But it absolutely doesn’t mean he was apathetic or hoping Rice would die.
“But, the officers arrested Rice’s mother and tackled his sister when they arrived to see what had happened to him.”
This may come as a surprise, but when family members learn that a loved one (especially a child) has just been shot they’re going to be hysterical, and rightfully so. Still, despite their justified agony and hysteria, the police still have a crime scene to protect. They can’t allow family members to rush into the crime scene and contaminate evidence. For the sake of a thorough and accurate investigation (something that even Rice’s family would want) they have to keep everyone out of the crime scene, regardless of how much pain they’re in. I don’t know the details but I imagine Rice’s mother was arrested for continually refusing orders to stay out of the crime scene. There’s also the possibility that she was enraged at the officers for what had happened and posed a threat to the officers if not handcuffed.
To close this out, I want to repeat that I think Rice’s death was tragic. I wish officer Garmback had been more tactically prudent and perhaps officer Loehmann wouldn’t have felt so immediately exposed and vulnerable and perhaps Tamir Rice would still be alive today. But I don’t believe either officer had intentions of killing Rice for no good reason. I believe Loehmann acted in reasonable defense of his own safety after Garmback painted him into such a dangerous corner. I don’t believe either officer should be charged with a crime, but once again, that’s for the Grand Jury to decide, not you, or me, or the court of public opinion.