Justice Department protests powerful, by Marc H. Morial
1/7/2021, 6 p.m.
The decision in late December not to charge the officers who shot and killed a Black child on sight encapsulates everything that is wrong with the U.S. Department of Justice under the current administration.
Once again, it has protected the powerful at the expense of the powerless.
Once again, it has failed to seek justice for a Black life.
Tamir Rice, 12, was a child playing with a toy. It would have taken Cleveland Police Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback only a few seconds to ascertain that he posed no threat to anyone. But they didn’t bother to spend even those few seconds because all they needed to see was the color of Tamir’s skin to decide he was a threat.
They didn’t even bother to stop their car completely. As Judge Ronald B. Adrine wrote in his ruling that probable cause existed to charge the officers, “This court is thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly ... the Zone Car contain- ing Patrol Officers Loehmann and Garmback is still in the process of stopping when Rice is shot.”
The toy gun wasn’t even in Tamir’s hands when the officers shot him. The video “does not appear to show him making any furtive movement prior to or at the moment he is shot,” Judge Adrine wrote. Tamir’s arms “do not appear to be raised or outstretched.”
A grand jury declined to indict the officers in 2015, calling the killing a “perfect storm of human error, mistakes, and communications by all involved.”
However, because grand jury proceedings are shrouded in secrecy it’s unknown what evidence the grand jurors heard or what recommendations the prosecutors made.
After a Louisville, Ky., judge granted grand jurors in the Breonna Taylor case permission to speak publicly, the public learned that prosecutors had not given them the opportunity to bring homicide charges against the officers. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron falsely claimed the grand jury “agreed” that the shooting was justified.
The city of Cleveland last year settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Tamir’s family for $6 million.
This brutal year of COVID-19 has seen armed protesters storm state capitols, threatening lawmakers and even menacing police and not one was harmed. The armed protesters were white.
In Kenosha, Wis., in August, police nonchalantly allowed accused killer Kyle Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-15-style rifle, to walk by them even as witnesses shouted that he had just shot someone. Kyle Rittenhouse is white.
The same week as the Kenosha killings, police in Utah arrested an unharmed Richard Grant Lees after he fired shots at the officers with an assault rifle. Richard Lees is white.
Time and again, Black people are considered a threat just for existing, while violent white men are cossetted.
A Justice Department that does not consider Tamir’s death a crime is a Justice Department that has decided that white officers must never be held accountable for taking Black lives under any circumstances. Among those recently pardoned by President Trump were a white police officer who unlawfully ordered her police dog to attack people of color; a Border Patrol agent who brutalized a Latino man trying to cross the border; an immigration agent who illegally harassed Latino store owners; and a sheriff who defied a court order to stop racial profiling and who once said it was “an honor” to be compared to the Ku Klux Klan.
It may be too late for the incoming Biden Administration to re-examine this case. But we expect the new attorney general to be committed to police accountability and to pursue such cases with a sincere motivation to seek justice for the victims rather than to protect their killers.
The writer is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.