The blunders continue to pile up in the case of Tamir Rice’s death, even months after the biggest blunder of all: the killing of the 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun in the park. This time, Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson has been moved to apologize for city lawyers callously blaming Rice for his own death.
This comes as President Obama unveiled recommendations from a White House task force that police practices be changed to prevent tragedies like Rice’s Nov. 22 shooting at hands of a rookie Cleveland police officer. Additionally, it said police should rebuild relationships with the communities they are hired to serve and adopt policies to address racial profiling, while easing their approach to protests and collecting more data on shootings and deaths by the police.
“The moment is now for us to make these changes,” Obama said. “We have a great opportunity, coming out of some great conflict and tragedy, to really transform how we think about community-law-enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel, rather than being embattled, feel fully supported. We need to seize that opportunity.”
While such changes, if they are even implemented in local departments, eventually could amount to improvements in certain areas, the Black community’s angst will not be lessened until law enforcement who take the lives of unarmed Black males are held accountable.
Justice Department investigations into the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown—unarmed African-American males killed by whites—failed to hold the killers responsible for the deaths.
The disregard for Black lives and the anger and disappointment were heightened when lawyers used dismissive language in federal court filings claiming that Rice, who was shot two seconds after the police arriving at the park, was responsible for his death.
The city’s lawyers, in response to a wrongful death lawsuit file by Rice’s family, argued in the filing that the boy died because of his own actions and not because of police department errors.
“Plaintiffs’ decedent’s injuries, losses, and damages complained of, were directly and proximately caused by the failure of plaintiffs’ decedent to exercise due care to avoid injury,” according to the papers filed by the city’s lawyers.
They added that Tamir’s injuries “were directly and proximately caused by the acts of plaintiffs’ decedent, not this defendant.”
The family’s lawyer, Walter Madison, angrily called the city’s argument “incredulous” and a “poor use of words.”
Mayor Jackson agreed in his apology.
“We used words and phrased things in such a way that was very insensitive,” Jackson said.
“Whatever words you use, the point remains that they are still blaming a child,” Madison said to The New York Times, adding that such an argument reflects the “institutionalized behavior” of the city’s police department, which has been criticized by the Justice Department.
Madison added that the officer who shot the boy, Tim Loehmann, had been allowed to resign from a previous police job after his supervisors determined he was
emotionally unfit for the stresses of police work. The Cleveland police have admitted failing to review the officer’s previous personnel file.
“It cannot be the kid’s fault that the city negligently hired the officer without reviewing his personnel file,” Madison said. “It’s not this kid’s fault that (the officer) had emotional instability.”
Obama’s task force, in an interim report of more than 100 pages, offered 63 recommendations, including the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force to guide a broad overhaul of the criminal justice system.
“It will be good for police and it will be good for the communities involved, and as a consequence it will be good for the country,” Obama said. “Everybody wants our streets safe, and everybody wants to make sure that laws are applied fairly and equitably.”
Additional recommendations from the panel included that police departments collect and post on their websites information about stops, frisks, summonses, arrests and crimes, broken down by demographics.
It called for less confrontational practices by the police and steps to “minimize the appearance of a military operation” when dealing with large protests, among other changes.