Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Don't Ever Call the Cops: The Tamir Rice Story

The Tamir Rice story, and the irresponsible decision not to prosecute his killers, is breaking my heart. And while the worst sufferers are Tamir's family, I have found myself thinking, ever since he died, about the poor soul who called 911. That person was just trying to do the right thing, but the positive, neighborly gesture led to disaster. Calling 911 brought the Cleveland Police, and because the police came a child died. Everything would have better if the police had not come.

I wonder about that 911 caller, who did the right thing and will have to wrestle with guilt because in Cleveland that became the wrong thing. The 911 call specifically said that the person in the park was probably a kid and the gun was probably a fake. Those caveats got stripped away, and the police rolled right up on the poor boy, got out of their patrol car car, and immediately shot him dead. Then they stood around let the child bleed to death.

Before we go through the apologists' spin doctoring, let's remember three things:
1. Tamir got shot within two seconds of the police's arrival. They did not give him time to comply with any order. I do not think they gave the boy time even to comprehend their orders.
2. The fake gun was still tucked in Tamir's belt when he was killed. The police never saw it in his hand.
3. Even Tamir had been a grown man with an actual pistol, THAT IS NOT AGAINST THE LAW in Ohio. Ohio, for better or worse, is an open-carry state, which means that people have the legal right to carry a gun openly in parks. The cops shot him dead although there was no crime being committed, and no appearance of a crime being committed.

That is to say, there was no crime being committed until the cops arrived. The police themselves became the menace, not for the first time in Cleveland, destroying the civil peace they were sworn to protect.

And that leads us back to the problem of the 911 caller. Because one of the practical lessons here is: do not call the police. They are too dangerous. What should be the safe and neighborly thing to do has the most gruesome unintended consequences, because the police turned a kid fooling around on a playground into violent death. I'm sure that caller won't be quick to call the cops back to the neighborhood. How could you be?

And this is just one particularly stark and ugly example of the ways that bad cops destroy good cops' ability to do their jobs. Police work depends on neighborhood cooperation. Always has, always will. It's impossible to solve most crimes without neighbors providing tips and serving as witnesses. (The prevalence of CSI-style procedurals on TV is partly about denying this fact. In the real world, solving a felony with DNA evidence alone is rare.) Keeping peace and preventing crime depends on neighbors being willing to call 911. When you teach a neighborhood not to call the cops and not to trust the cops, because the cops themselves have proved themselves untrustworthy, you are making real police work nearly impossible.

It's not justice or peace. The police are sworn to uphold both. By endangering the citizens they are sworn to protect, they not only pervert their sworn charge, but make it impossible for any peace officer to do the job correctly.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

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