Police and protesters must ‘see’ each other, I argued in a post yesterday affirming the wise words of New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Both sides need to see and understand that the concerns and frustrations of the other are valid and worthy of discussion. But then a video emerges that reinforces the sense that police don’t see people. They automatically see perps unworthy of humanity or compassion. What happened to Tamir Rice and his sister in a neighborhood park in Cleveland on Nov. 22 illustrates this.
We were horrified by the initial video that was released of Tamir’s killing. The 12-year-old boy was playing in the park with a toy gun. It was stripped of its telltale marking that it was fake. Someone in the same park called 911 to report “a guy in here with a pistol, pointing it at everybody.” The caller’s admonition that the gun is “probably fake” apparently never made it to the officers.
That’s just one of the outrages we have since learned. The police officer who killed Tamir did so just “1 ½ to 2 seconds” after arriving on the scene. The patrol car had barely stopped and the officer barely out of the cruiser when he shot the child dead. The full scope of the callousness is on display in the extended video released late Wednesday night thanks to the persistence of Northeast Ohio Media Group.
The officers did not provide assistance to the mortally wounded Tamir. One minute and 30 seconds into the 30-minute video, we see one of the officers knock Tamir’s sister backwards into the snow as she runs to his aid. The video has no sound, but it is not hard to imagine her screaming her brother’s name and pleading for answers about what happened. She was handcuffed and placed in the back of their squad car. Meanwhile, it was an FBI agent who happened to be in the area who administered first aid to Tamir — four minutes after the child was shot. Paramedics showed up eight minutes after the shooting. At 13:40 in the video, Tamir is wheeled away on a stretcher as his sister sits in the police car next to where his body had lain.
In addition to the lack of compassion, what adds to the disturbing nature of the video is the apparent lack of judgment. Why was the first instinct to race up and shoot rather than slow-roll in and command Tamir to put the (toy) gun on the ground?
One answer might be that those officers didn’t “see” Tamir. Heck, they didn’t even think he was a child. “Shots fired, male down, um, black male, maybe 20,” one of the officers said when calling in the shooting. Again, Tamir was 12. In the two-way conversation that is police-community relations, the video highlights why the community finds it hard to “see” let alone understand the police.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj