Tamir Rice's airsoft gun minus orange tip. Photo credit: Cory Shaffer, Northeast Ohio Media Group
Tamir Rice’s airsoft gun minus orange tip.
Photo credit: Cory Shaffer, Northeast Ohio Media Group

(Cleveland, OH) Over the weekend, 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, was shot by Cleveland police officers after responding to a 911 call that the boy was at a waving a gun that was “probably fake” at a park outside a local recreation center.  Rice died from his wounds early Sunday morning at the MetroHealth Medical Center.

The Cleveland Division of Police described the incident this way:

Officers responded to a radio assignment outside of the recreation center for a male with a gun. The Preliminary information reveals that witnesses reported that a male was in the playground area of the center, waiving a gun and pointing it at people. Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun. Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso…

…Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12 year old suspect was in possession of is an “airsoft” type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.

Both the Cleveland Division of Police Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office are investigating the shooting.  The officers, described by Deputy Chief Edward Tomba as a rookie officer and a 10-year veteran to the force, have been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is being investigated.  Tomba said that the boy made no verbal threats and there was no physical confrontation and that the rookie officer fired at the boy twice, striking him in the stomach once, after he reached for the gun in his waistband after being ordered by the officer to raise his hands.

Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeffrey Follmer said dispatchers did not relay that the gun was “probably fake.”

“Besides, we have to assume every gun is real,” Follmer said. “When we don’t, that’s the day we don’t go home.”

“There is nothing I can say that will provide any type of relief or healing to the family of twelve year old Tamir Rice who tragically lost his life. Regardless of the facts of this case, we must remember that it was a child who was killed and our investigation will respect the wishes of that child’s family as it unfolds,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said in a released statement.

Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams in his statement said, “First and most importantly, I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to the family of Tamir Rice. I have personally reached out to the family and offered them an opportunity to view the video evidence in connection with the incident from this past Saturday. The family has declined that opportunity; however, their representatives did agree to participate and pass-on any necessary information. We will continue to work with the family and their representatives as the investigation progresses. From this tragedy, we can gain knowledge. We can be proactive and diligent in teaching our children about guns and the dangers of playing with firearms, whether they are real or fake. Guns are not toys and the replica in this instance was indistinguishable from that of a real firearm.”

Rice’s family has hired attorney Timothy Kucharski, who says he will conduct his own investigation of the shooting.

“Tragedies happen when you rush ahead of the facts,” Kucharski said. But he added, ”You have to look at this in the context that this is a 12-year-old boy, not a 35-year-old man with a criminal history. You can’t expect adult reactions out of children.”

The Cleveland Division of Police is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into allegations that its officers use excessive force against its citizens.

Some thoughts/questions:

  • This story would be tragic even if the gun turned out to be real.  It is always sad when someone so young loses his life.
  • We need to withhold judgment until all of the facts are revealed.  Something that unfortunately didn’t happen in Ferguson.  Liberals are already painting the police as “trigger-happy.”
  • We do not know the boy’s state of mind when the police arrived.  Why didn’t he comply with a lawful order?  Why was he waiving a gun around in a threatening manner?  Why was the orange safety indicator removed?
  • Why did the 9-1-1 dispatcher not relay to the officers that the witness who called thought the gun was “probably fake.”  That is relevant information.  It may not have made a difference in the end, but perhaps a different approach could have been taken.
  • A warning for parents of children who have airsoft guns (myself included as my son has them too) this is why the orange safety indicator must remain on the airsoft gun and/or not colored black.  This is a safety feature for our kids, and parents need to talk to their kids about the importance of keeping that in tact.
  • Some wonder why police don’t shoot to wound.  Two primary reasons.  1. When a police officer uses deadly force it is when he believes his life is danger.  Wounding a suspect may or may not incapacitate him enough to remove the officer from danger and  2. They were in a park, you want to aim center mass.  The last thing you want is a stray bullet.  It’s not easy, under stress, to hit your target from a distance anyway.  Shooting to wound would more than likely send stray bullets into a park that could put other bystanders in danger.
  • Also, if the officer waited for the boy to pull the gun out and point it at him before firing it would have been too late.  A police officer has the duty to serve and protect.  They do not have a duty to die.  They put themselves in harm’s way everyday as it is.  It is unreasonable to expect police officers to wait to use deadly force until a weapon is actually pointed at them.
  • We also don’t know how the officers approached the boy and why they didn’t engage the boy prior to ordering him to raise his hands.  It also should be noted that it was the rookie officer who fired and not the 10-year veteran officer.  Perhaps the veteran officer read the situation differently.  Hopefully this all will come out upon further investigation.
  • The typical response, it seems, is to call for more regulations.  State Representative Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) announced Sunday that she will introduce legislation to place restrictions on BB guns, air rifles, and airsoft guns requiring them to be more distinguishable from real weapons by being entirely bright colored or have fluorescent strips.
  • We need to pray for the Rice family, for the officers involved and for the city of Cleveland.

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