The Moral Universe – “What Then Must We Do?”

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The words of Billy Kwan in “The Year of Living Dangerously” have haunted me since I first saw the movie in the early 1980s.

Should I live so long, I will also be haunted for the next 30 years by the picture of the young boy with the big eyes and engaging smile; the smile that ceased to exist on November 22, 2014, on a cold afternoon in Cleveland.

This week a report was released by a consultant hired by the Cleveland district attorney, one of several consultants who will be part of deciding whether Timothy Loehmann will be indicted for the shooting death of Tamir Rice.

Attorney S. Lamar Simms of Colorado concludes that Loehmann’s actions were “reasonable” as judged by federal case law. A similar report by FBI Special Agent Kimberley Crawford comes to the same conclusion.

If the Cleveland prosecutor does not end up indicting Loehmann, the decision – as in the decision not to prosecute Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, will bolster policemen across the country to shoot first and ask questions later.

Perhaps I should emend that to say it will give police the confidence to shoot people of color before considering options.

The conclusions of reasonableness were partly based on the Fourth Amendment, which is meant to protect citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. So, in effect, Mr. Simms’s and Ms. Crawford’s conclusions are that Loehmann was acting reasonably in seizing the 12-year-old Tamar Rice’s life.

The entire incident started with Tamar playing with a friend’s BB gun outside a rec center that he went to every day. The BB gun used plastic pellets, not the lead pellets of BB guns of my childhood that could do a lot of damage. Tamir was outside the rec center with the toy gun from before 2 PM until he was killed at 3:30:23, almost the same moment that the patrol car came to a stop, according to Mr. Simms. In that hour and a half, only two people, whom policemen did not interview until four months later, were alarmed by his actions with the toy gun. Only one was alarmed enough to call the police.

The person who did call 911, who has never been named, was sitting at a table outside the rec center having a beer and waiting for a bus. He said he watched Tamir for about 20 minutes and when he made the 911 call, he reported that the youth was pointing the gun at people. He also told the 911 operator that he thought the gun was probably fake and that Tamir was young.

tamir riceLoehmann never made an official statement about the shooting, according to Mr. Simms, and he used the hearsay of another policeman to gauge Loehmann’s actions. Loehmann told a first responder that he thought Tamir was going to kill him.

Here are my own questions on the reasonableness of Loehmann’s actions:

  1. Tamir was at a rec center in his neighborhood that he went to almost every day. Was he not a familiar face to other people using the center?
  2. If he was pointing the toy gun at so many people, why were none of the witnesses interviewed anyone who said he pointed the gun at them?
  3. Why did no one who reportedly had the gun pointed at them call 911?
  4. Why wasn’t a blood alcohol level taken from the 911 caller? Is it legal to drink alcohol on the grounds of a community recreation center?
  5. We can answer the first part of #4 because neither the caller nor any other witnesses were interviewed until March 2015. Why were the caller’s and other accounts trusted so implicitly after such a long period of time? Can most people recall details of a day four months earlier?
  6. Why did the 911 operator not inform the dispatcher, or the dispatcher pass on to the policemen, that the caller said the youth’s gun was probably fake?
  7. Why did the responding patrol car drive into the park, jump the curb and come to a stop such that the vehicle rocked back and forth (brakes applied heavily) within seven feet of Tamir rather than approach, stop out of harm’s reach and assess the situation?
  8. Four seconds elapsed between Loehmann’s jumping out of the patrol car and the fatal shooting of Tamir. Is it reasonable that a 12-year-old would hear and comprehend an order to show his hands (as is alleged that Loehmann said to him) in that short space of time?
  9. The 911 caller said that Tamir kept putting the toy gun in his waistband and then pulling it out. Loehmann maintains that he fired because Tamir refused to show his hands and reached toward his waistband. But if the gun wasn’t visible, how was the determination made in seconds upon screeching to a halt at the playground that Tamir was the person the call was about?
  10. Keeping in mind how you behaved when you were 12 years old, imagine yourself playing in a place you went to every day and suddenly hearing and seeing a police car pull up within seven feet of you and a policeman pulling a gun on you, all within four seconds. Would there have been time for Tamir to think of anything in that space of time?
  11. The “shots fired” call was made at 13:31:51. If four seconds is a reasonable amount of time for a policeman to decide to use deadly force, why is a minute and 28 seconds not considered an unreasonable amount of time to decide to call in the shooting?
  12. Why are Patrolmen Garmack and Loehmann repeatedly called “officers”? Patrolmen are not officers. Officers are sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. Does calling them officers make them seem more reasonable?
  13. Ohio is an open-carry gun state, so how did a report of a male with a gun turn so deadly? There are many similarities to the killing of John Crawford, also in Ohio.

Agent. Crawford also uses a federal case, Graham vs. Connor (1989) to make her argument. The Supreme Court ruled in that case that reasonable of the use of deadly force by a policeman can only be judged from the point of view of the policeman. (My italics)

In this day and age, that is about the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard. If that is “reasonable,” what then must we do?

(You can read Mr. Simms’s report here: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2454875-tamir-rice-report-s-lamar-sims.html and Ms. Crawford’s report here: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/10/crawford-review.of.deadly.force-tamir.rice.pdf)

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