Margaret Eby
March 02, 2015 12:42 pm

Back in November, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing in a park near his house in Cleveland with a toy pellet gun. An alarmed passerby, called 911 to report the situation but noted in the call that the gun was “probably fake.” Police officers arrived at the scene and, within two seconds of exiting their squad car, shot Rice, fatally injuring him. Rice’s death was ruled a homicide.

Amidst the protests over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Tamir’s death didn’t get as much media attention as it should have. It’s a horrifying, tragic story, and it just got worse: the City of Cleveland now claims that the 12-year-old is at fault for his own death.

Rice’s parents and sister brought a lawsuit against the city in response to Rice’s death and the way that officers treated his sister, Tajai, during the incident. Cleveland police tackled, handcuffed, and arrested Tajai after she attempted to aid her injured brother, and also threatened to arrest his mother when she pressed police about why they had locked up her daughter.

In response to their lawsuit, which lists 27 counts including civil rights violations and battery against Tamir and Tajai, the city argued that Tamir died because of the actions and choices he made.

“Plaintiffs’ decedent’s injuries, losses, and damages complained of, were directly and proximately caused by the failure of Plaintiffs’ decedent to exercise due care to avoid injury,” the city responded to the suit. 

In other words: Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer because he failed to take “due care” while playing outside in a park, even though the gun he wielded was, as the 911 caller noted, “probably fake.” It’s blaming the victim of this awful tragedy without examining any of the police action involved. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes about culture and social issues for the Atlantic, wrote a tweet that hits on another overlooked issue here. Tamir was a child and what we are talking about is the shooting of a little boy by the police.

The entire story is injustice in the rankest terms, and the Rice family is bravely fighting it.

“What they [the city] said is incredulous at best,” Walter Madison, the family’s lawyer, told the Washington Post. “It’s unbelievable. There are a number of things that we in society don’t allow 12-year-olds to do. We don’t allow them to vote, we don’t allow them to drink. In court we don’t try them as adults. They don’t have the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions.”

“What the city officials have done for a 12-year-old is set a new standard for children in their response, and all of that assumes that they’re not responsible for hiring this guy who was emotionally unfit to be a police officer,” he added.

We will be closely watching this story as it unfolds. Not only is it a tragic situation on a family and city-level, it’s also another important piece of the ever-evolving race and justice divide in this country.

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