It bothers me, especially in the age of social media, when people rush to judgement one way or the other on issues that they may have very little knowledge about. One of the issues that really gets on my nerves is the issue of police involved shootings. On one side you have people making judgements about what it is like to be a 12 year old African American boy when they may be a middle-aged suburban Caucasian soccer mom and on the other hand you might have a gang member talking about how a police officer should have reacted in any given situation.
What ever happened to trying to sort out fact vs. fiction or actually having conversations about a situation instead of jumping all over people on Twitter or Facebook. Almost always there is more to a situation than what the media chooses to inform us about.
After I heard about the Grand Jury's decision to not indict Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback in regards to the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice it was only a matter of seconds before the peanut gallery circled the wagons on both sides of the issue.
What happened to Tamir Rice was an extreme tragedy and when I thought about it it brought back two very vivid memories. The first was when I was Tamir's age. (In the interest of full-disclosure I am a middle aged white suburbanite.) I grew up in Cicero, Illinois which at the time was a town of about 60,000 bordering the west side of Chicago. It had a heavy concentration of Czech and Italian residents and of course was most famous for being Al Capone's home town.
I was about 12 years old when my parents bought me my first BB rifle. No it wasn't a Red Ryder and no I didn't shoot my eye out but it could have been much worse. I was a pretty good shot and always was very careful about where and how I shot the rifle. I had set up a target range of soda cans in my yard and had even made sure that I had a metal backdrop to stop any BBs or pellets from going stray and taking out windows or the occasional cat.
The neighbor who lived across the alley from us didn't really like us much and without me knowing it had called the police. (Even though he knew who I was and what I was doing) In his conversation with the dispatcher he simply said he wanted to report a man shooting a rifle across the alley from his house. He even gave the police our address.
I had just finished killing some soda cans when I noticed two police cars pulling up to the front of my house with lights and sirens and two pulling into the alley. One of the police officers kicked down our rear gate, pointed his weapon at me and yelled, "Drop the Gun!"
Now I knew full well that the rifle I was holding looked very similar to an actual high powered rifle with a scope. In fact it was part of the reason I wanted it as a kid. It didn't look like a toy. Thank the Lord above that the minute the cop pointed his gun at me and yelled at me I froze and my hands simply opened without me even thinking about it and the rifle fell to the ground. I think about what would have happened if I had lifted the rifle in an attempt to show the cops that it was only a BB Gun. I realized even at that young age that I came very close to being shot!
Once I dropped the gun the police officer ran up to me and grabbed the rifle and quickly realized that it was a BB gun. He let the other officers know over the radio. My dad came out and the police explained that they broke our gate and pointed weapons at me because the gun looked so real and that the caller had simply reported a man shooting a rifle.
Eighteen years later I found myself in a police uniform and had been dispatched to a subdivision in West Chicago after a resident called the police because their neighbor's garage door was open. The neighbors were supposed to be out of town. I waited for my backup to arrive and then the two of us walked into the garage. I really didn't think much of it. We had gone to many calls similar to this only to find out that a garage door opener had malfunctioned or something had been in the way of the electric eye that causes the door to reverse direction after the car pulls away.
We noticed that nothing seemed to have been disturbed in the attached garage and I tried the door leading to the house and surprisingly it was unlocked! At that point, there could have been burglars in the house so we called dispatch to clear the channel because we had an open door. Basically that means dispatch tells all officers to not use the radio because of the possible dangerous situation thereby giving us first priority on transmission.
I was the first through the door with my partner behind me. The door opened to a long hallway with a "T" intersection about 20 feet again. I shined my flashlight into the pitch dark hallway and announced in a loud voice that we were the police. At that point I saw what looked like a rifle barrel coming around the far corner as if to point at us. I yelled "Gun!" and pushed my partner back out of the door and into the garage in order to get out of the death trap of the hallway.
My mind was reeling and my partner was rather shocked as well. I thought for a split second and realized that I might have been looking at a mirror at the end of the hallway and I might have seen my own reflection. The adrenaline drained out of my body and I thought we should try this again. This time I had my partner open the door and hold it open but not go in. I stood off to the side as to not silhouette myself in the doorway and had my weapon drawn. I again announced our presence and this time I could clearly see that looked like a rifle barrel again coming around the corner. I yelled for the person to drop the weapon but they continued coming around the corner. I stood ready to fire when the strangest thing happened! They were banging the rifle barrel on the wall!
The barrel kept getting longer until it became clear that it was a cane held by an older man. There was still no acknowledgement from him that he heard us but it became obvious very quickly that he was blind!
Just then a woman walked into the hallway to greet us and asked us if there was a problem. She was blind as well. That at least explained why there weren't any lights on. We told her why we were there and she said that they were planning on going on vacation but the elderly man's wife had fallen ill and was taken to the hospital so the vacation was postponed.
Talk about an adrenaline roller coaster! I had told the other guys what had happened and they more or less laughed at me and said I would have had a hard time explaining why I shot a blind guy in his own house!
So I could have been a Tamir Rice or I could have been an Officer Loehmann so I can see both sides. Mistakes, miscommunications and perceptions can unfortunately lead to deadly consequences.
Should a 12 year old be playing in a public park with what appears to be a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol? Most people would say no. The officers on the other hand were not told that the suspect might be a juvenile or that the gun might be a toy and they were going to a "man with a gun call" That may have helped but I know that as a former police officer you always assume the weapon is real if you don't want to end your shift in a body bag. However, it would have been information that I would have wanted to have if I was the responding officer.
Did the officer driving the vehicle make a tactical mistake by driving right up next to the suspect with the gun and not giving themselves distance to assess the situation? More than likely but I never like to armchair quarterback an officer's decision because I am not privy to what was going on at the time and I am not seeing things through their eyes.
I believe the Grand Jury made the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances to not indict the officers on criminal charges. The family and protesters are calling for "Justice" when their is no "Justice" to be had on either side.
A mother has lost a son and a police officer has to live with the fact that he shot and killed a 12 year-old boy regardless of the legal justification.
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