Who Killed Tamir Rice?

It’s almost Christmas. For those of us raised in the Christian tradition, it’s a gift-giving occasion. Historically, indulgence at Christmas might have begun as a simple prayer of thanksgiving. Which would be enough. Showing a little gratitude.

As a member of America’s Second Amendment family, there’s a good chance you’ll buy a BB or pellet gun for your kids. Maybe even a paintball marker (that industry prefers to not call them “guns”) or an airsoft gun.

We recognize these as “toys” even though insurance companies force marketers to smother their products in warning labels noting that they are dangerous and should only be handled with adult supervision.

(Years ago, as a director of Bear Archery, I had to print labels and warnings and cautions for the smallest, cheapest plastic bow, the one sold with rubber stick-on cups on the end of the arrows: “Warning: Not a toy to be used by children …”)

Hit in the eye by a .177 air rifle pellet and you’ll go blind. Hit with a .68 caliber paintball (legitimate play requires a face shield) or an arrow tipped with a rubber cup may cause retinal detachment. No parent wants a maimed child and only attorneys enjoy lawsuits. Still, we rarely imagine that death would be the outcome for playing with a toy gun.

On November 22nd, Tamir Rice, 12, walked to a park in Cleveland and was shot dead by police officer Timothy Loehmann, 26. Loehmann and partner were responding to a 911 call.

The audio of that call is available online. “There is a guy with a pistol,” the caller says. “It’s probably fake, but he’s pointing it at everybody.”

There is also grainy black-and-white video. Tamir waves the pistol; eventually sits alone under a gazebo. The police car pulls up beside the structure. From the car, Loehmann shouts at Tamir, three times the officer testifies: “Show your hands!” Instead, Tamir approaches the car. On the passenger side, Loehmann jumps out. In two seconds, at about 10 feet, he shoots the 12-year-old. Loehmann says the boy was drawing a gun. The video appears to substantiate this.

The family claims the boy’s death was avoidable, murder, and that Loehmann acted inappropriately.

At Christmas, I want to know why a lone 12-year-old had a gun and waved it around in public. Did he find it in dad’s nightstand and go out to play? Was he a gang member, some thug-in-training?

The gun was a spring-activated airsoft pistol shooting plastic 7-ounce, 6mm BBs. Purchased online from AirGunWarehouseInc.com, the Colt M1911A1 Tamir carried is a “realistic replica,” $26.95 plus shipping.

TamirRice_Colt1

The Colt M1911A1 that Tamir Rice was carrying and “waving around” on November 22nd when confronted by police. Called a “realistic replica” of a .45 semi-auto, this gun is actually a pistol that fires soft air pellets. In essence, it is a “toy.” The distinguishing bright orange tape indicating that it is not a firearm has been removed from the muzzle. Of course, a police officer confronting a person “waving around” a similar pistol with the tape intact would also have to make a quick decision. Has a local thug simply taped the barrel to make a firearm appear to be a toy? You have two seconds. What would you do?

To identify and separate toys from firearms, airsoft pistols are sold with bright orange tape around the muzzle or an orange plastic tip on the muzzle. In the package they are obviously not firearms.

Of course, many people ignore the labels and warnings and remove the orange tape or plastic muzzle. Maybe doing so gives them a heightened sense that play is “real life” and indeed, some law enforcement agencies use airsoft guns for training.

Taking the tape and warnings off an airsoft gun that resembles a firearm and then waving it around in public, however, attracts attention. Maybe the 12-year-old was “just playing” when the police arrived. Maybe when he ignored the shouted order to raise his hands and instead reached into his waistband to draw the toy that looked precisely like a black semi-automatic handgun, he was also “just playing.” But it was a fatal error.

The orange tape had been removed from Tamir’s airsoft pistol. When the boy reached for the gun rather than raising his hands, the cop had two seconds to decide how to respond.

TamirRice_Orange

This “exact replica” SIG SAUER semi-auto soft air pistol is equipped with a bright orange barrel extender. Would that be enough to distinguish the gun as a “toy?” Pulled in a garage or even in an open park, would you immediately notice the orange tip?

Fault.

If you do not assign fault, you don’t learn—and if you don’t learn, you can’t heal.

From what I have learned about Tamir’s case, the officer acted in a professional and responsible manner. Which is not to say that he will not be haunted the rest of his life for killing a child. Or that he and the police department will not face continuous harassment from Tamir’s family and ethnic community.

This terrible incident is not about race. It’s about responsibility. It’s about fault. It’s about blame.

The blame for Tamir’s killing lies solely with the mother who allowed a 12-year-old to go outside with the gun. The fault lies solely with the father who allowed the tape to be removed and failed to teach the child that the Colt was a dangerous toy.

The mom and dad, not the cop, were solely responsible for the death of Tamir Rice. Give carefully. Teach well. Remember this as you open gifts at Christmas.

REFERENCES

Video – a video of the shooting is available in quite a few places, but here is one:
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2014/nov/26/cleveland-video-tamir-rice-shooting-police

Audio – an audio of the 911 call that sent police to the park is also available in many places online, but here is one: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2014/nov/24/cleveland-911-call-12-year-old-shooting-audio