This Chaplain’s take on the events in Cleveland

Warning: This is long.

Disclaimer: This is written as a perspective, not official guidance on the law or police procedures. If you have questions on your laws and ordinances, seek professional guidance. This article (nor its author) may not necessarily represent the opinions and thoughts of the Cleveland Police Department (or any of its members), or the City of Cleveland, or any agency the author is affiliated with.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, here is how I come to the following conclusions. I’ve been around public safety since 2008 and a Chaplain since 2012. I’ve spent over 500 hours in a police cruiser with police. I have been in situations that I thought I might have to use a weapon in defense, or almost hit by a passing car in traffic. I have not come to these conclusions lightly, but I have used my training and experiences, experiences that I know most people do not have or understand.

By now most of us have seen the video of the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland on November 22, 2014. Two Cleveland police officers, Timothy Loehmann, 26, and Frank Garmback,46, responded after receiving a dispatch call describing a “young black male” brandishing a gun at people in a city park. The officers stated that during the confrontation, Rice reached towards a gun in his waistband. Loehmann fired two shots within two seconds of arriving on the scene, hitting Rice once in the torso.The gun turned out to be an Airsoft gun. Rice died the following day.

  1. He was pulling in and out of his waistband. You see in the video that he was clearly pointing this weapon at people. Those people may or may not have know that the gun was only an air soft gun.
  2. “Rice was just a child”. While Tamir was a child, and 12 years old, his appearance my not have made that easily identifiable. According to the autopsy, Tamir was 5:7 and weighed 195 pounds. Tamir’s appearance was “consistent with the reported age of 12 years old or older,” the autopsy said. I joined the military in 1995 at the height of 5:10 and 185 pounds. So even from up close, he may not have given the appearance of “a child”. In addition, the initial radio contact from the officers on scene was “Shots fired, male down, black male, maybe 20.”
  3. “Children can not be dangerous, especially to grown men”. This has been proven false numerous times. For example:
    This is roughly the age that gang involvement and initiations begin.
    12 Year old kills a homeless man in Florida.
    Boy, 12, stabbed baby brother to death.
    Boy, 12, charged with murder in playground stabbing.
    10-year-old boy confesses to killing 90-year-old woman.

    I could go on, but you see the point. Minors can definitely be dangerous. The other factor is this: If the minor has a weapon and knows how to use it, they are armed and dangerous. If they do not know how to use it, the weapon is still dangerous, because it can fire due to neglect or carelessness and hurt/kill anyone around them.

  4. “Killed because of a toy gun”. What people infer is that since we NOW KNOW that the gun was a Airsoft gun, the police did not have to shoot. While this statement is true, it is only true at face value. The officers were not aware that the gun was an Airsoft gun. Only after examined up close were they able to determine that fact. So based on the information they had, they thought someone was pointing a gun at people walking by. In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), the United States Supreme Court held that the “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” inquiry is whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Pp. 490 U. S. 396-397.

    In an initial statement following the tragic incident, a Cleveland Police spokesperson said, “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.”

    So the point here is that given the information they had, did they do what a “reasonable” officer would do in the situation. Is it reasonable to shoot someone who attempts to go to their waistband for a gun? I would say “Yes it is”. Is it reasonable to do it when it is a child, even if it may be (or even looks fake)? I again would say it is. And while some would like to rush to judgement based on the facts as we know them now, the Graham v. Connor standard mandates that officers be judged on the information they have.

    I hope this article is informative and help put the Rice shooting in some perspective.

    If you are one of my LEO friends and you have additional thoughts, examples or clarification, please let me know and I’ll update the article.

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