The decision by the grand jury—or should we say the prosecutor—not to indict the Cleveland police officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice is a testament to the true power of institutional racism.
In order to discover the real potency and effectiveness of racism, one need not search for a white supremacist donning a white hood and robe, waving a Confederate flag and hurling racial epithets. Rather, in order to appreciate the damage that a system can do to a Black child, look for the highbrow, sophisticated forms of oppression that hide under the legitimizing cover of legalese and legal procedure. What is moral, ethical or right simply is not an issue, but rather what is legal, what is doable for the purposes of maintaining systems of racial oppression is all that matters.
What people are realizing, in all their sophistication, is that a system can lynch a Black boy as they did to 14-year-old George Stinney when they executed him in South Carolina in 1944, or when the Klan murdered and mutilated the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till 60 years ago. We now fast forward to 2015, and witness yet another lynching of a Black boy through the trappings and legitimacy of prosecutorial discretion. And once again, we are told that Black lives do not matter, videotape or not, and it is the law.
On November 22, 2014, officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback responded to a 911 call concerning a “guy with a gun” at a park. The 911 dispatcher did not tell the officers that the caller said the person holding the gun was likely a juvenile, and the gun was likely a fake. In reality, it was a toy pellet gun. When the officers arrived at the scene, within two seconds, Loehmann fired his gun at Tamir, shooting first and asking no questions later. Neither of them attempted to administer first aid to the boy in an attempt to save his life. And the officers thought Rice was a grown man in his 20s, as is the case when white people, in this case cops, encounter Black children and perceive them as older and guiltier than they really are.
Officer Loehmann claimed he was left with no other choice, that Tamir reached for his gun. As Vox reported, what was key from a legal perspective was that Loehmann perceived the gun as real, whether it was real or not, thereby justifying his use of deadly force. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, who had previously released three so-called expert reports justifying the officers’ actions, was all too willing to oblige. Justifying what happened to the 12-year-old, McGinty acted as a virtual defense attorney for the police officers, guiding the grand jury in the direction he wanted, which was the eventual decision not to indict the officers for murder. Announcing the grand jury decision, McGinty called Tamir’s death a “perfect storm of human error,” not a criminal act, as the Huffington Post reported.
“The outcome will not cheer anyone,” McGinty added, maintaining that Loehmann’s conclusion he was about to be shot was “a mistaken but sincere belief.” “It would be irresponsible and unreasonable if law required a police officer to wait and see if the gun was real.”
The attorneys for the Rice family made the following statement:
It has been clear for months now that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty was abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment. Even though video shows the police shooting Tamir in less than one second, Prosecutor McGinty hired so-called expert witnesses to try to exonerate the officers and tell the grand jury their conduct was reasonable and justified. It is unheard of, and highly improper, for a prosecutor to hire “experts” to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Police Department, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report, is poorly trained, violent, and unnecessarily uses excessive deadly force, with “poor and dangerous tactics” that often put officers “in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.” In Cleveland and other police forces across the nation, the use of force is a color-coded proposition, with bodily harm and death disproportionately faced by Black people:
Further, officer Loehmann had previously worked for six months in the suburban police department of Independence, Ohio, where he was judged unfit to be a cop because he could not properly handle a firearm, as Vox reported.
“His handgun performance was dismal,” according to an internal department memo, and during his training at a firing range, Loehmann reportedly was “distracted and weepy.” Loehmann also failed the written test for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, and was rejected for employment by the Akron, Euclid, and Parma Heights police departments. And this is the man who shot Tamir Rice and is getting away with murder. Reactions from social media were appropriate and thoughtful forms of outrage.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) December 29, 2015
It’s odd how the US wants to enforce justice in the Middle East when they can’t recognise the injustice in their own country #TamirRice
— Dalvir Mandara (@DalvirMandara95) December 29, 2015
— StopMassIncarceratio (@StopMassIncNet) December 29, 2015
— Jason Pollock (@Jason_Pollock) December 29, 2015
— Gigi Traore (@gigitraore) December 29, 2015
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,” as Fredrick Douglass once said. “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress… If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.”
This is something to ponder as we express our outrage over the grand jury proceedings in Cleveland.