How Will The Community Respond After Tamir Rice Grand Jury Decision?
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A grand jury in Cleveland has chosen not to indict two white police officers in the death of a 12-year-old black boy. Rookie officer Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir Rice in 2014 after he and his partner responded to a 911 call. Loehmann mistook the boy's pellet gun for a real one. Today, in announcing the grand jury's decision, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said there was no way for Loehmann to know Tamir's gun was a toy.
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TIM MCGINTY: Believing he was about to be shot was a mistaken yet reasonable belief given the high-stress circumstances and his police training. He had reason to fear for his life. It would be un-responsible and unreasonable if the law required a police officer to wait and see if the gun was real.
CORNISH: Tamir Rice's death helped propel a national discussion about race and the police, a discussion that's far from over. Jamil Smith is senior editor at the New Republic and Cleveland native. Welcome to the program.
JAMIL SMITH: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now, you have been writing about this case for many months. But this also took place in your hometown. What's your reaction to this?
SMITH: Well, Audie, I happened to be at the site of the shooting less than a month after it happened, so I saw the frozen tracks of the police car as it skidded up to the site where they shot Tamir. And I just had one overriding thought. There's so many ways that this could've not happened. There's so many reasons why they could have taken a different approach to Tamir despite the, you know, supposed threat of a gun, despite the 911 call. There are so many things that they could have done differently that would have prevented this. And frankly, I think someone should have been held criminally responsible.
CORNISH: This is also the decision of a grand jury that heard several months of evidence. And they're not the first jury to decide that an officer in a shooting acted in a way that's not unconstitutional. Are these juries the problem, investigators the problem, or is there a question of the law here that needs revisiting?
SMITH: Well, actually, I think what today's press conference illustrated more clearly, I think, than any other case of police violence that we've seen to this point is that we need independent prosecution, independent investigation of every case of police violence. We're asking elected prosecutors to work to secure indictments of police officers who they regularly work with to secure indictments on other cases. I think what we need here is what the state of New York just ruled. You should not have these local prosecutors involved in these cases because they're being asked, essentially, to turn against the very people whose trust and work that they depend on in other cases.
CORNISH: Now, in an - yes?
SMITH: And so what I'm hoping is that the state of Ohio, Governor Kasich and other states - that will see this as, you know, impetus for action. And I really think that they need to understand that the biggest fear here is not whether or not Clevelanders are going to riot in protest. The biggest fear here should be that this is going to happen again.
CORNISH: Now announce - in announcing the grand jury's decision, prosecutor McGinty said knew people would be upset and that he sympathized. Let's listen to a bit of his statement from earlier.
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MCGINTY: Through this process we, too, have heard the chants and we, too, want justice for Tamir. But justice would not be achieved by bringing charges that would violate the ethical canons of our profession because we know these charges could not be sustained under the law in our Constitution.
CORNISH: Now the police chief says his office will continue to investigate Rice's death. Do you think there's anything to this statement from the prosecutor, from the police, that satisfies those who have called for more police accountability?
SMITH: I certainly don't because what I think here is you have a prosecutor who, in addition to that statement, added qualifications for the reason - you know, for the lack of an indictment such as Tamir's age, his height and weight making him look older than 12 years old. Even his assistant prosecutor offered justification for the lack of medical attention that was given to Tamir after the shooting, blaming his younger - blaming his sister who was panicked and screaming, you know, at the fact that her brother had been shot, and supposedly distracted the officer. And the officer who committed the shooting injured his ankle, so he was unable to help. I just - knowing the proximity, having physically stood at the spot, none of those things ring true with me. And, you know, they were inconsistent not only with my reporting, but also the common sense that I try to exercise when looking at this case.
CORNISH: Before I let you go, the movement known as Black Lives Matter has helped keep this issue in the news, in the campaign. Where do you see this movement going, given the news today?
SMITH: Well, I see the movement, I think, trying to address, you know, as they have been, more policy-oriented solutions. I think that what we need here is obviously a healthy expression of anger because this kind of thing cannot be allowed to go forth without any kind of protest, without any kind of, you know, voicing of anger. But the problem here is that you have the same policies in place, the same structural inequities that...
SMITH: ...Will persist.
CORNISH: Jamil Smith, I'll have to let you go there. I'm so sorry. Jamil Smith is a senior editor at the New Republic. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.