On Tuesday, the United States Justice Department announced they would not be pursuing criminal charges against the two officers involved in the 2014 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, citing insufficient evidence. Rice had been playing with a toy gun in a park in Cleveland, Ohio when officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback shot him within two seconds of arriving on the scene. Rice would have graduated high school in 2020 if he were still alive. But despite the tragedy which has been a major lynchpin in the Black Lives Matter movement over the course of the past several years, the federal government is refusing to hold Rice's killers accountable within our current legal system.
"In order to establish a federal civil rights violation, the government would have to prove that Officer Loehmann's actions were unreasonable under the circumstances, and that his actions were willful," federal attorneys said via a press release. They continued that "an officer is permitted to use deadly force where he reasonably believes that the suspect posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.”
In Rice’s case, the 911 caller noted that the person in the park holding the gun was probably a child and that the gun was likely fake, but those notes were not passed to the responding officers before they shot and killed him. In December 2015, a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against Loehmann and Garmback. Loehmann, who was in field training when he shot Rice, was fired three years after Rice’s death for lying on his job application. He had also been deemed “emotionally unstable” and “unfit for duty,” especially in his handling of firearms, in his previous policing job.
Back in October, the New York Times reported that in 2017, DOJ prosecutors asked to present evidence in this case to a grand jury — a request that was denied in August 2019 — effectively ending the inquiry into the case without actually conducting it. They then waited over a year to officially close the case and tell the public and the Rice family why they decided not to charge the officers in Rice’s death.
But what is the real excuse here? There is video from the scene of Rice’s shooting and, while grainy, clearly shows the two officers pulling up and firing their guns at a child within seconds of arriving. And it's this lack of accountability — and lack of ability to even bring charges against the officers — that fuel calls to defund and abolish policing as we know it. If officers cannot be held accountable for failing to do even a basic assessment of a scene to prevent shooting a child holding a toy, it’s further evidence that the system cannot be reformed — it must be dismantled.
“It cannot be called the Justice Department if it cannot bring about justice for the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice,” Missouri Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush said on Twitter.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley echoed this on Twitter, saying, "There will be no justice. In a just world, Tamir would be here with us. Known by his family and friends for his kind heart, not known by the nation because he was murdered as a child."
"This case involves the totally unjustified shooting of a 12-year-old child," Jonathan Abady, the attorney for the Rice family, told CNN, adding that Rice’s mother, Samaria, is consumed by grief and disappointment at the decision. "This is part of a problem that we've been living with as a society for as long as anyone can remember, that is the unjustified excessive use of force by police officers against people of color. And the idea that people would not be held accountable for this is really more than upsetting."