Columnist Malpractice On The Tamir Rice Tragedy

This is not how police saw Tamir Rice before he was shot, but never mind: the points is to horrify the public, not to accurately explain what happened.

This is not how police saw Tamir Rice before he was shot, but never mind: the objective is to inflame public opinion, not to accurately convey what happened and why.

Washington Post reporter Lonnae O’Neal found herself compelled by the Tamir Rice grand jury decision to write the kind of irresponsible column for the paper that can be written but shouldn’t be written—not by a professional journalist, not when public passions are inflamed, not when complex and entangled issues need analysis, careful words, perspective and wisdom. It is an emotional scream of pain and frustration, unleavened by objectivity, fairness or restraint. Such columns do much damage, and no good. Such columns are destructive. I hope writing it relieved her pain, but that’s not justification enough.

I was alerted to the kind of column it would be  by its first sentences:

A 12-year-old black boy walks into a Cleveland park, plays with a toy gun and, within seconds of arriving, a police officer shoots him dead. His partner tackles the boy’s 14-year-old sister as she rushes to his side, handcuffs the girl and shoves her into a squad car, helpless, as her brother lay dying.

If we want to accurately describe the event that ended  Tamir Rice’s life so prematurely from the perspective of people who loved him, and of people mourning the senseless death of a child, those who read about the boy’s death and want to cry to the skies, “Why? How can this happen?,” then that is a defensible beginning….maybe.  That is not her intent, however. The intent of her column is to indict “the system” for not indicting the officer who shot Tamir Rice. With that intent, the description is a lie, a manipulative appeal to pure emotion that willfully and negligently makes the system, which is not and must not be based on emotion, incomprehensible.  Continue reading

The Tamir Rice Fiasco And “Ethics Zugzwang”

Gun comparison

There are circumstances in which all ethical options have been eliminated by poor choices and bad luck. Henceforth Ethics Alarms will refer to this dilemma as ethics zugzwang, zugzwang being a chess term for the situation where a player must make a move, and any move will worsen his position.

By the time the killing of Tamir Rice got to the grand jury, it was ethics zugzwang. The grand jury’s decision not to charge the two officers involved is troubling, and a decision to charge would have also been troubling. To get anything out of this utter and fatal fiasco, a lot has to change, and we have to recognize what in order to make those changes occur. It won’t be easy. I think it may be impossible.

There is no way that the justice system can do its job objectively and well when every police shooting involving a black victim is instantly labelled racist and murder by vocal activists, pundits and and social media, with the implied threat of civil unrest. If an indictment is handed down as in theFreddie Gray matter in Baltimore, it appears as if mob passions are manipulating the system, and, in the Gray case, it was. Such a result, in turn, makes it more difficult for the next accused cop to get justice. It estranges the police force from the government entity it serves, and makes police wary and less likely to assume the risks associated with their vital and inherently dangerous  job.

These considerations create their own impetus making a failure to indict more likely. A city cannot afford to be seen as not supporting the police, even when they make a deadly mistake in judgment. District attorneys are on the same team as police, and automatically share their perspective; it is important that the police recognize that. The police receive the benefit of every doubt, and the deserve that. Yet a failure to indict, especially now that police shootings have become high profile matters that every blogger and pundit prejudges according to their own biases and agendas, will inevitably be used to indict the system instead. Continue reading

The Tamir Rice Fiasco: A Step Toward Embracing Mob Justice In Police Shootings

Oh, yeah, THIS is going to work...

Oh, yeah, THIS is going to work…

Because they believe that law enforcement officials did not move fast enough to indict (or not) the officers involved in the tragic, mistaken shooting of Tamir Rice, community activists are going  to seek the indictment and arrest of the Cleveland police officers involved by using a little-known and eccentric Ohio law that permits citizens to go directly to a judge with affidavits to seek murder charges. We can only hope that the judge chosen for this end-around has the courage and integrity to reject the petition as the attack on due process that it is.  I would not want to bet the farm on that happening.

Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice’s death is one of the most horrible among the spate of police shootings that have caused local and national outrage in the past year. On November 22, 2014 two police officers, 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann and 46-year-old Frank Garmback, responded to a city park after receiving a police dispatch call about “a male sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people.” A 911 caller had reported that an African American male was pointing “a pistol” at random people in the Cudell Recreation Center and that “he is probably” a juvenile .The caller also said the gun was “probably fake,” but was unable to tell whether the weapon was real or not because the orange barrel markings used to identify toy weapons had been removed. This information was never relayed to the officers. Continue reading

It Begins Again: The Unethical News Media Fights For Control Of Another Shooting Narrative

Stirring the potThe thinking in news rooms is, I suppose, “After all, somebody’s going to do it. Might as well try to get the upper hand.” When did journalism decide that stirring the pot was responsible journalism?

As the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, discussed here, slowly begins its journey to replace the Michael Brown controversy as Ground Zero for the war on cops, whites and racial trust, one Cleveland news source decided to make a preemptive strike at the 12-year-old boy shot dead for brandishing a realistic pellet gun in the park.  Reporting that Tamir Rice’s father had been convicted of domestic violence multiple times, the story published on reported that

“People from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence. The Northeast Ohio Media Group [’s owner; the group also runs the Cleveland Plain Dealer] investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts.”

I have racked my feeble brain, and I cannot conceive of any relevance this might have to the fact that a police officer used deadly force against a child with a toy gun. Officer Timothy Loehmann didn’t know the boy: if his defense is, as I assume it will be, that the boy had the pellet gun out, didn’t respond to his order to drop it and placed the officer in legitimate fear of his life because the gun appeared real, his biological father’s propensity to abuse women doesn’t help us understand anything. This isn’t just unfair and irresponsible victim-blaming, it is stupid victim-blaming. Continue reading

Perfect Timing: The Tamir Rice Shooting

The boy and his toy.

The boy and his toy.

Unluckily for poor Tamir Rice, Cleveland, its police Department and Officer Timothy Loehmann, but luckily for the race-hucksters, activists and anti-police zealots determined to sell the position that white police have a secret hunting license for black kids, we have this latest tragedy, with another unarmed black child, this one just 12-years-old, killed by police.

Although it will doubtlessly not be portrayed that way in the media, there were many contributing factors to Tamir’s death. He was carrying a realistic pellet gun revolver in a park, and this is not a good idea. The guns are very realistic, especially from a distance. An observer called in a 911 alarm…I suppose the citizen can’t be blamed for being cautious, but in an earlier age, when toy guns looked like toy guns and the idea of a kid shooting anyone for real was unimaginable, this would have never happened.

Incredibly, the dispatcher didn’t relay to the officers the information from the caller that the gun was “probably fake.” The police excuse for that obviously crucial mistake was “We need to get that information to that zone car.”  Get the information that someone is wielding a real gun when there is already reason to believe it might be fake? There is never a need to get bad and potentially deadly information out fast. If nothing else, this is negligence, and would fuel a powerful lawsuit.

Then the officers arrived, encountered the kid, and apparently shot him dead without using a megaphone to warn the boy to drop his pellet gun. Not only did they assume the gun was real, thanks to the incomplete dispatcher report, but the shooting officer was a rookie. Would a more experienced cop have kept a cooler head? Continue reading