By Michael Nam
Prior to the release of the official investigation into the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, newsnet5 out of Cleveland reported sources that stated the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office found no evidence of a crime, but sections of the report show some troubling details, especially in the need to cast the young victim as a physically menacing and seemingly less innocent individual.
In a redacted interview, Detective David Jacobs inquires into the story of a woman who mentioned seeing pictures of Tamir Rice on social media in a chance encounter with Cleveland Police first district Sergeant Janell Rutherford.
Apparently, investigators spent quite a bit of time trying to track down images that showed Tamir Rice looking older than the photos seen by the public, as well as looking for images of him with a gun, which is unsurprising considering the time and effort that Cleveland Police have spent framing Rice as looking threatening enough for an officer to feel justified in shooting him.
Another interview, this time with an FBI agent who was on the scene attempting to administer aid to the dying boy, also emphasized Tamir’s appearance:
Three months following the shooting, detectives conducted a follow-up interview with the 911 caller who had reported the gun was “probably a fake” and that Rice was likely a juvenile during the call. However, while interviewed by police, he describes Rice as looking to be around 20-years-old, a change the detectives noted, but the witness doesn’t actually explain the difference in his story.
The attempt to cast the victim, Rice, into the mold of someone far more threatening in order to justify his homicide fits in with research that shows law enforcement officers often view Black children and adolescents as far older and less innocent, according to the American Psychological Association.
“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”
Perception of Tamir Rice as being an older, threatening suspect could lead to what appears to be the overreacting behavior of the police officers who shot the boy.
ThinkProgress extracted four key moments recorded in the official investigation about the officer’s reactions:
Loehmann told officers at the scene that he had repeatedly warned Rice to show his hands prior to shooting him.
None of the witnesses heard the officers give Rice verbal commands before the shooting.
Loehmann shot Rice within 2 seconds after exiting his vehicle.
Both officers refused to cooperate with the investigation.
It’s hard to tell at what age a Black male is old and threatening enough to be given just two seconds to comply with an alleged police order before the officers feel required to open fire.
Despite newsnet5’s reporting, the official position of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department is that they draw no conclusions based on their investigation, and that it’s entirely up to the prosecutor and the grand jury to file charges. However, some of the avenues of investigation they present are troubling in the way the shooting victim’s appearance and background are made such an issue.