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by Peter Moskos

December 24, 2014

Police Shooting Kids

Here I am on NPR's "Morning Edition" flapping my mouth about the shooting of Tamir Rice (Cleveland kid killed by police while holding a realistic-looking BB gun):
[Moskos] says mayors everywhere walk a tightrope between police and citizen outrage. He says the public needs to get more realistic about how the police work. And police need to be less tone deaf to how their actions can inflame the public. The fundamental challenge for mayors, Moskos says, is a willingness to make big changes when police shootings aren't warranted.
This also applies to NYC, by the way. But I really don't like hearing myself speak (seriously, I think my voice is kind of high and nasal). The voice I liked hearing came from the Cleveland mayor:
I do not want children to die at the hand of police officers. But at the same time, I don't want a policeman killed on the street because he was hesitating because he didn't know if he was going to be sued or fired. So I don't want that either.
Who's got a problem with that? [And yet I bet you -- and I really have no idea about him or Cleveland -- but I bet you that most Cleveland cops hate their mayor. Why? Because he's a liberal black mayor of Cleveland. But I really have no idea if he's hated, liberal, or even black. I can't even guarantee he's he mayor.] Now I was pretty clear about what I thought about the shooting of Tamir Rice (good shooting in the legal sense; horrible and shameful shooting in the I-live-in-America sense).

So if I had one word for police officers, who, for good reason, feel they need to defend officers in these situations (hell, I do), at least be enough of a human being to admit the obvious: "You know what, it's really horrible that a 12-year-old kid holding a non-lethal gun got shot and killed in America."

Just say what you're feeling. It would go a long way. And it's not anti-police to feel a bit for a 12-year-old shot dead by police.

And to those who can't fathom how police could shoot and kill a 12-year-kid, consider that this kid was holding a fucking gun! (Or at least something that no reasonable person could distinguish from a real bullet-firing gun.) And then consider of the words of the honorable mayor of Cleveland: "I don't want a policeman killed on the street because he was hesitating because he didn't know if he was going to be sued or fired."


Anonymous said...

The Mayor has the right cost/benefit but it's a tradeoff and the fact is that the total lack of accountability (supported by PCM because he's a cop-lover) means the balance is in the wrong place. PCM is wrong (so wrong that the only conclusion is he is a dick) about the justifiability of Tamir Rice's death. It's not just a tragedy; it's a crime.

Anonymous said...

Most cops I've talked to find that there was significant incompetence in the Tamir Rice shooting. Problem is, it's not the incompetence untrained people think exists. Once the officer is there within range of a person brandishing what for all intents and purposes is a gun, then the shooting is a legal action. The incompetence occurred before the contact was ever made, and this illustrates the huge distance between cops and police accountability-types.

"Guy brandishing gun at no one in particular" is a not uncommon call in my 1000+ officer agency. Protocol here after dispatch confirms no shots have been fired is to stage out of sight and get eyes on the subject without engaging allowing for assessment of the situation and subject. This very reasonable tactic would have allowed officers to do things very differently in this case.

I liken policing to being a pilot. When a plane crashes, the layman can point and say, "Yup, something went wrong there" but lacks the technical knowledge to comprehend why the plane crashed and how the actions by the flight crew affected the outcome. Now, complicate the plane crash model with the concept that sometimes the weather actively takes steps to make the plane crash, and one is getting closer to accurately analyzing police use of force.

This lack of comprehension is at the core of why cops resent "accountability" advocates. In other words, even though you've watched Top Gun dozens of times and can explain how "backwash" caused Mav's crash and Goose's death, you are not actually qualified to analyze actual plane crashes.

David Woycechowsky said...

Strong agree with Anonymous #2. If Tamir Rice had a real gun and wanted to ambush the policemen then they would probably be dead.

Driver incompetent for driving up and Officer Loehman incompetent for not ducking down (out of the footpring of the passenger side front window) and yelling "Drive! Keep Driving! Get us out of here! What are you doing you fuzzy-headed, silly-willy driver? Just drive away!"

Both officers should have been fired for incompetence by now (this is not a close case), and that should be the message that police scholars are giving the CPD and the public.

I think PCM's public comments are a bit wide of the mark (no pun intended) here.

bacchys said...

Rice isn't "brandishing" the gun. He doesn't have time. He dies with it still in his waistband.

Putting yourself into a situation where you have to shoot someone doesn't create a justification, and with the time it took for the officer to shoot Rice after opening his door he was going to kill him regardless of what Rice did.

In his mind, Rice was an adult, black thug with a gun. He was justified in shooting him before he ever arrived on the scene, and that's what he did.

bacchys said...

"Strong agree with Anonymous #2. If Tamir Rice had a real gun and wanted to ambush the policemen then they would probably be dead."

And if the cop who pulls me over next time is a serial killer, I'll be dead if I don't shoot him first. Even better: he's definitely armed.

Am I justified in shooting first, asking questions later?

Anthony said...

Ohio Code § 2941.145 considers "indicat[ion] that the offender possessed the firearm" to be "brandishing", or at least equivalent to it. When Tamir Rice placed his hand at his waistband, he was brandishing a firearm per Ohio's legal code.

bacchys said...

The police didn't know Rice had a gun. They never saw it. They had a report of a man with a gun, and they pulled up on a person whose age they didn't know *at all* and jumped out shooting.

That cop was prepared to pull the trigger even before he opened his door. Blame that on his partner for putting them in a tense, vulnerable situation (from their perspective) if you'd like, but that's not on Tamir Rice. It's also not a justification for the shooting.

T Wallace said...

When a policeman kills an unarmed citizen, or a 12 year old -- why not try to pursue a settlement of a civil case as soon as possible? The city/police are going to be sued anyway, and a settlement is likely -- a big one.

One of the reasons for the rage is that the immediate issue is whether the policeman was legally justified in his actions or guilty of a criminal offense.

There is too much room between a criminal act by police and negligence by police. An acknowledgement of fault but not a crime would go a long way toward taking some responsibility for a bad outcome.

There were three other white police killings of blacks after Michael Brown. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/25/us/ap-us-killings-by-police-berkeley-glance.html

KAJIEME POWELL was killed after he shoplifted some junk food, and then threatened officers with a steak knife. And ordered them to shoot him. The guy was clearly mentally ill. And the police put 12 rounds in him. My steak knives will barely cut steak. I find it hard to believe that there wasn't a non lethal way to handle the situation. Experienced police in past years would likely have taken care of the perp with a night stick. A beatdown is rough justice. 12 rounds?

VONDERRIT MYERS seems a little iffy. Until it was known that he was facing a felony weapons charge. And he had photos in social media showing him holding an automatic in each hand. One of which was the gun found at the scene.

ANTONIO MARTIN was filmed by security cameras pulling a gun on the policeman. And had a criminal history.

The point being that the there was no major backlash over these killings. Powell and Myers killing seem to involve a lot of questions. At least to me. Myers was running away from ... nothing. It is possible or even likely that he was terrified about facing another weapons violation, or his curfew violation from his bail hearing.

I would like some consideration to handling at least some of these situations like we currently handle high speed car chases. The chase itself creates much more serious dangers to police and the public than the original crime. With cameras, they can be arrested at the time and place chosen by the police. Same with other less serious crimes that start escalating.