This is some flat-out awful news. A lot of ink's been spilled lately on police shootings, from the tumult in Ferguson, to the John Crawford shooting at a Walmart in Ohio, and on and on. And now another such incident has occurred, this time tragically resulting in the death of a child — Cleveland police fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice Saturday, after responding to a 911 call about the boy's airsoft replica gun. The two officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.
While much more will likely become clearer in coming days, early reporting has revealed a story that carries sad echoes of the aforementioned John Crawford shooting. Rice was reportedly carrying an airsoft gun — in this case, a handgun replica designed to fire non-lethal projectiles like BBs, or tiny plastic balls — which drew a 911 call, and brought police to the scene. Rice was ultimately shot in the torso by one of two responding officers, and despite being taken to a hospital and undergoing surgery Saturday, he died Sunday morning.
According to the Cleveland Police Department, the airsoft gun was mistaken for an authentic weapon. While such replica guns often feature a bright orange tip at the end of the barrel to make it obvious that it's not a genuine firearm, the department says this type of marking had been removed from Rice's.
So, here's the version of events as detailed by the police, and by the person who phoned in the 911 call: at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, two officers (one a rookie, and one reportedly with at least 10 years of service) arrived at Cleveland's Cudell Recreation Center. They were responding to a call about a male apparently armed with a handgun — the caller did tell the 911 dispatcher that the gun was "probably fake," but also that he was "scaring the shit out of people" with it, according to Cleveland.com's Cory Shaffer.
Police say the officers spotted the black airsoft gun on a table, and that Rice picked it up and tucked it into his waistband. When they called out to him to put up his hands, they say Rice instead took the airsoft gun out of his waistband, which caused the first-year officer to fire two shots. According to CPD Deputy Chief Ed Tomba, who spoke to Cleveland's WOIO, Rice didn't make any threats, nor did he actually point the gun at the officers.
Tomba reportedly assured assembled media (amid angry shouts from community organizers) that an investigation of the "very tragic" incident was coming, though he also specifically referenced Rice's failure to follow police orders.
We don't come to work everyday and want to use force on anybody. That's not what our job is. We're part of this community. ... When an officer gives a command, we expect it to be followed. The way it looks like right now, it wasn't followed, but we're going to continue our investigation.
According to Shaffer's report, the incident will be investigated by the Cleveland Police Department's "use of deadly force investigation team," which consists of police officers, people within Cleveland's Office of Professional Standards, and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.