On Saturday around 3:30 p.m., two police officers fatally shot a 12-year-old boy, Tamir E. Rice, near the Cudell Recreation Center. Rice died the next day at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
The boy had an air toy gun that very closely resembled a real, semiautomatic pistol. According to a 911 caller that fatal afternoon, “[Rice is] in [the Cudell Recreation Center] with a pistol, you know, it’s probably a fake, but he’s like pointing it at everybody.” Then Rice moved to a park near the recreation center and the caller said “[Rice is] sitting on a swing right now, but he’s pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people. He’s probably a juvenile, you know?”
Two officers responded to the call and sought out Rice at the park. Rice did not point his air gun at the two officers and no confrontation or threats were exchanged at all. However, when the officers asked Rice to stop and show his hands, Rice reached into his waistband and pulled out his air gun instead of complying. The officers fired two shots, striking Rice once in the abdomen. The orange tip on Rice’s toy gun had been removed, deeming it indistinguishable from a real gun at a glance.
The officers regret using such lethal force on the boy, and the rest of us do feel bad that such a tragedy happened. However, just because the victim was a juvenile doesn’t and shouldn’t influence justice. In the academy, every police officer is taught that hands can kill them; it is only natural that they take action towards Rice’s threatening gesture.
Some have argued that the officers should have used less lethal force on the boy as to avoid such tragedy, however, the officers testified that they were unaware of the fact that Rice was only 12 years old. Decisions made under pressure are usually driven by instinct rather than reason. When officers think their lives are on the line, it is more than understandable for them to take the most definite action to eliminate the threat.
A lot of us question the motives of the police officers that serve us and ask, “how can we feel safe if tragedies like this keep happening?” It is regrettable that so many wrongful forces have been directed at people who didn’t deserve it and perhaps it is best that quick decisions are made an important subject in the police academies, but we should also put ourselves in the officers’ shoes and see the reasoning behind their actions.
Police officers are always out in our society, in the open, keeping order and clearing our streets of danger. They face a lot of threats, day in and day out. In order to protect themselves, in order to go home every night, they must always be on their guard. Statistics showed that German officers fired a total of 85 shots in 2011 while U.S. officers fired much more than that. What statistics left out was how there are relatively more uncooperative suspects in the U.S. than there are in Germany. Perhaps there is a reason to our officers’ paranoia towards possible threats, and perhaps this is an issue that both the officers and the people must work together to improve.