"Our officers at times are required to make critical decisions in a split second," stated Chief Calvin Williams.
On November 22 2014, two people in Cleveland OH made critical decisions in just a few seconds that will forever change lives. The Cleveland police received numerous reports of a boy in a local park who was waving around a handgun in public view. There was one 911 caller who did state that the handgun that the gun was probably fake. That was one caller among many who were reporting the same incident and it is unknown at this time if the responding officers had that information passed on to them.
What did happen was that Tamir Rice, 12, was confronted by a police officer and had been told to put his hands up. Another officer had reportedly seen the pistol laying out as they approached and saw Rice grab it and put it in his waistband. When Rice was told to put his hands up, he chose in that split second to grab at his waistband and the officer reacted by shooting Rice. Rice died from his injuries the following day and once again, a community is faced with the death of an "unarmed" young person.
Rice was armed with a replica Airsoft BB pistol, so it is inaccurate to claim that he was unarmed. The pistol had the orange tip removed from it so that any warning that it was a "toy" gun had been taken away from the officer's or caller's view. The gun looked very real and while some have stated that it was obvious that it was fake because it was made of plastic, Those types of pistols are made of several materials and are not all that light.
Rice also did not follow the officer's statement of putting his hands up. We have been watching for several months the protests in Ferguson MO that stress... "Hands up, Don't shoot" but Rice did not make that choice when he was confronted. The officer who fired has been described as distraught after the shooting and both officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.
What is known is that Tamir was in the park with some of his friends on Saturday afternoon and he had been flashing the air pistol in public. He was not in his own yard playing war games, was not in a designated area for using air guns in simulation games and he was not flashing a brightly colored water pistol. He was flashing a pistol that looked real enough that numerous people called 911 to report a boy with a gun in a park. It may be entirely true that one caller stated that it "probably" was a fake but looking at the pistol that was recovered, it does not look all that fake at a glance.
Tamir also was in a very public location where there probably were other families and children so their concern for public safety is understandable. It is also not unheard of for young people to have and/or use very real guns while committing very real crimes these days. Whether the handgun looked "light" when handled does not really give the person on the other end of a gun a very solid belief that it is in fact..... a fake gun. Lastly, while the handgun is designed to handle plastic pellets and have a softer hit than firing regular metal BBs, it can still cause physical damage. Locations that offer simulated play with this type of gun require safety equipment to be wore by those participating.
The pistol that Tamir had on him has been called a toy gun by many and that brings a certain picture to many people's minds. The imitation guns of today are not the little plastic guns of several decades ago nor are they the undersized metal six-shooters that fired caps while children played. Imitation guns can look very real and have a price range of $25 to $1500 and in some states, they have to be treated almost like a "real" gun. It is illegal to openly carry an imitation gun in NJ and many states require the owner of such a gun to treat it as if it were a real gun since they are considered a real gun.
They have become very popular among children and adults because of their design. Paint guns are still popular but the cost of using a plastic pellet air gun is dramatically cheaper, less painful when hit and cleaner to play with. They are imitation so they are not usually a cheap, light plastic but rather, they are constructed of composites, metal parts and other materials. The fact that many have an actual heft to them is also a draw to those who want to feel as though they are using the real thing.
I do feel for the family of Tamir and I also feel for the family of the officer involved. I do not believe that the officer went out to that park to try and gun down an innocent child. I do believe that the officer went there to try and prevent a possible shooting and Tamir made a poor choice in the confrontation.
It is difficult to think that the officer could tell in an instant that the handgun in his waistband was a toy. We will never know what Tamir was thinking when he did not just freeze and put his hands in the air. He may have just been afraid that he was going to get in trouble for having the air pistol in the park. The officer may not have had any time to try and figure out if the gun that may end up pointed at him in seconds was real or fake. Honestly........ do you think that if you were facing a handgun like that, you could immediately decide that it was fake and you would be ok?
While we as a nation are busy burning down parts of a city and protesting the deaths of young people during confrontations with the police.......... where is the outrage and protesting for the hundreds of young people who are injured or killed by gunfire that originates with another civilian? Before you fault the officer, should we not ask why he had the gun in public, why he did not just leave it where it was and why he did not just raise his hands like we have been shown to do in the past few months?
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Update Feb 28 2015:
The family of Tamir Rice had filed a lawsuit against the police and the city that stated that Tamir suffered "terror and fear" right before he was shot dead. The response from the city, according to Tamir's family is that his death is is directly and proximately due to both the actions of him and his family. The police are still investigating the shooting and have chosen not to comment on the recent claims by Tamir's family.
It is difficult to believe that the officers who responded to the 911 calls "knew" for certain that the gun tamir had and spent minutes playing with in public and pointing at others was fake. There has only been one report from the several 911 calls that stated that it might not be a real gun. Unfortunately, a young boy died but if it had been a real gun and police had not shot him..... would there have been as much public outcry if an innocent bystander had been shot in an exchange with Tamir? Common sense dictates that you don't "play" in public with a gun that looks very real from a short distance away.