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Police Shooting of 12-Year-Old Boy Deemed "Objectively Reasonable"


One year ago, police responded to a call of a suspect at a playground who was pointing a firearm at people and scaring them. When law enforcement arrived, the suspect, sitting on a swing, reached into the waistband of his pants, and police officer Timothy Loehmann fired, killing the armed suspect. But when the smoke cleared, a 12-year-old boy lay dead, armed with a toy gun.

The killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland prompted national outrage in an era of a "shoot first, ask questions later" police mentality that seemed to target black males.

A year after Rice's death, a third report released in connection with the case finds that Loehmann's actions in shooting Tamir Rice was "objectively reasonable."
W. Ken Katsaris, a Florida law enforcement officer, determined that the information given the officers responding to the call was sufficient to make them believe that Rice was armed, and that he was pulling a gun on them. 

Katsaris says that although the 9-1-1 caller who reported the suspicious activity told a dispatcher that the suspect was "probably a juvenile" and that the weapon was "probably fake," that information was not relayed to responding law enforcement. 

Instead, the dispatcher simply said, "There's a black male sitting on a swing. He's wearing a camouflage hat, a gray jacket with black sleeves. He pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people." The dispatcher also coded the incident as the highest-priority emergency.

According to the report, the responding officers simply weren't given enough information to handle the situation differently. 

But would it have made a difference even if they had been given the appropriate information that the caller stated that he did not know whether or not the gun was real, and that he identified the suspect as "probably a juvenile." After all, he also was concerned enough to call 9-1-1 about the situation and stated that the suspect was "scaring the s--- out of" him. The caller had a reasonable belief that the gun was real, and the responding officers would also likely have reason to believe the gun was real.

The attorney for the Rice family says that the reports are flawed in making presumptions about what the officers were thinking when they responded, and that they are inconclusive at best. He said that each of the three reports is simply a piece of a "complex puzzle," and that the investigation is far from over.

The shooting death of a person armed with a toy gun is not without precedent. 

A 1990 Bureau of Justice Statistics study reported that police are involved in altercations involving toy guns at a rate of about 200 per year, and the study--a quarter of a century old--says that the number is likely under-reported. 

Because of a number of toy-gun deaths in the 1980s, lawmakers changed the requirements of toy gun manufacturers, and instilled measures to make the guns clearly distinguishable from real firearms, including the installation of a bright orange safety cap. 

However, in the Rice case and in the case of Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old who was shot and killed by police while walking to a friend's house, the orange safety cap had been removed.

What is the solution in these cases? Should police assume that a gun is a fake until they have proof that it is not? Should toy manufacturers be responsible for creating toy guns that are clearly toys and immediately distinguishable from real weapons? Should parents be teaching their children that toy weapons are going to be assumed real, and that handling them in public or in the presence of law enforcement could be a fatal mistake?

While federal laws require an orange tip or strip on fake guns, state laws can be more severe. In fact, Tennessee recently passed a law banning toy and replica guns near schools--although it does not ban actual firearms near a school.




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