In November 2014 a person who was at a Cleveland recreation center called 911to report “a guy with a pistol”. The caller said “guy” which to most people implies an adult. It wasn’t “someone” or a “kid”. It was a guy.
The caller did, however, include that the gun was possibly a toy.
When the police responded they described the person with the gun as looking like he was in his 20s.
The officers judged that they were facing a possible active shooter in a neighborhood with a history of violence. And, so, within seconds of arriving at the scene, they shot 12 year old Tamir Rice without any attempt being made to get him to drop the weapon which turned out to be a toy, just as the caller had suggested.
Although a Cleveland judge found probable cause for the charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty, an Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the officers.
In explaining that decision, the prosecutor said,
“Given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications by all involved that day (I would leave Tamir off that list), the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police. It is likely that Tamir, whose size made him look much older and who had been warned his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day, either intended to hand it over to the officers or show them it wasn’t a real gun. But there was no way for the officers to know that, because they saw the events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective.”
When an armed and intoxicated Michigan man stood in front of a Dairy Queen waving a loaded rifle around and angrily shouting, refusing to put the rifle down when the police arrived, a 40 minute standoff began during which the police tried to get the man to put his weapon down, and when he finally did, because he refused to take a Breathalyzer test, officers decided not to give him his gun back, but instead told him to come to the police station and claim it the next day.
A San Diego man pointed his 9mm pistol at police after getting out of his parked car, and the police spent an hour trying to talk the man into putting down his weapon. When he rushed toward the officers with his weapon pointed at them, an officer shot him once in the stomach to put him down. Although he fell to the ground, his gun remained within reach, so police called him on his cell phone and spoke with him for 15 minutes before he agreed to surrender.
While two police officers were making a routine traffic stop at an intersection, a 22-year-old New Hampshire man opened fire with a BB gun from a nearby apartment building. He was arrested and found to be already on probation for a similar incident. The judge commented that he was worried about the man’s safety following the most recent BB gun-firing episode.
Two intoxicated Idaho men walked into a Walmart and proceeded to remove BB guns from boxes, loaded one, and fired it four times while in the store. They were arrested. Neither was shot.
A man in Pennsylvania pulled a gun on State Police who approached his car after he had driven it off the road into a ditch. When police approached the vehicle, the man pulled a handgun from his coat pocket and pointed it at officers. They had to take cover, and without firing a shot, after trying to talk him down, they broke the windows of his car, got him out, and arrested him.
As people march with guns and torches spewing racial and ethnic hate speech, no one seems bothered by the number of guns they carry. There are even pictures and videos of law enforcement talking to some gun wielding white guy to get him to put his weapon down.
Remember, Tamir Rice 12 had been walking around a Cleveland park, holding a toy gun that uses nonlethal plastic pellets. Within two seconds Rice was shot and killed as is clearly seen in a video of the event, and in the process of having people accept this, he was continually referred to as an adult and a guy in order to weaken the chance of sympathy for him and imply his death was somehow acceptable.
But the quick to shoot isn’t the only contrast that bothers me.
There’s that part about consistently referring to Tamir Rice in any term other than “kid”.
In contrast, while Nikolas Cruz is facing the death penalty, which having killed 17 people warrants that in Florida, his attorneys hope to have that replaced with life without parole, a move that relying on their being abls to present Cruz as someone deserving of it.
At the first court appearance of the Parkland school shooter, his attorneys referred to Nikolas Cruz, a 19 year old guy as a “kid”.
His attorney, Howard Finkelstein said ,
“This kid didn’t have to fall through the cracks”.
His other lawyer, Melissa McNeil, described him outside the courtroom as a “broken child”.
“When your brain is not fully developed, you don’t know how to deal with these things. That’s the child I’m sitting across from.”
Gordon Weeks, another member of the defense team, said,
“The child is deeply troubled and he has endured significant trauma that stems from the loss of his mother.”
A 19 year old man is described as a child in an effort to garner some sympathy for the killer of 17 students.
A12 year old playing with a toy is described as a “guy” who is adult looking.
Labels influence attitudes, and there was a measurable negative attitude concerning Tamir Rice.
The public defenders are hoping that using this to their client’s favor, public opinion will move in his favor.
Comparing his picture to Tamir’s, he has an advantage.