Role of Race in Police Shooting of 12-year-old Debated

When asked what more he could tell us about the rookie officer who fired the fatal shot, Cleveland Patrolman Association President Jeff Follmer answered with some hesitation.
"The officer was white," Follmer said. Adding, "You hate when this (race) comes into play. They were called there to do a job and they're looking not looking at the race of the male, just who was described and what he's doing."

A caller from Bainbridge empathized with Follmer.

Caller: "We should take race completely out of it. If you disrespect the law and antagonize the law with a firearm that could be real or not, you have to expect to face the consequences. I totally believe this child disrespected the law, unknowingly or knowingly, and the consequences were awful."

But you can't take race out of it, argued Cleveland State Urban and Social Policy professor Ronnie Dunn. He pointed to racial disparities in arrests and use of force. Dunne wondered aloud, if police had encountered a white kid in Hudson in similar circumstances, would they have killed him? "If we deny the distrust that exists and this very long troubled history between our community and the police, that only further drives this and we'll be sitting here next week, next month with another incident on our hands," Dunn said.

Dunn said the police have to work harder to reduce the number of violent encounters between police and the black community. But he also said the community needs to be better educated about police protocol in these types of incidents. Mike Walker of the "Partnership for a Safer Cleveland" echoed that point. "I have young people who say to me I have the right to use a cell phone when police make a traffic stop." But "police want to know where your hands are, so... put your hands up and do not bend down to pick up your cell phone." Walker added, "that doesn't mean we don't have law enforcement officers who don't follow procedures. What we really need to do in this town is be honest and open about what we need to accomplish together."

Jeff Follmer of the Cleveland police union said in this case the officers thought they were dealing an older male with a real gun and had to make a split second judgment. He told talk show Host Mike McIntyre they made several attempts to get Rice to keep his hands up.

Follmer: "The officers were begging and pleading with this young man to keep his hands up."

McIntyre: "So it wasn't just a one-time thing, 'put your hands up,' it was an extended thing?"

Follmer: "Correct. Talking to these officers, they're telling him to keep his hands up. They did not want that hand to go down to his waist band."

Other guests speculated on what might have caused Tamir Rice to reach for the BB pistol. He may have wanted to show them it was only toy, or, as Case Western Reserve University child psychologist Dan Flannery said, he may have just been thinking like a 12-year old. "Young persons are often impulsive," he said. "They don't necessarily follow commands quickly; they don't process information as fast as you would like; and they sometimes make bad decisions. It only takes one bad decision, putting your self in one bad situation, that can end in tragedy. That's a constant message we need to give to our kids because they don't necessarily hear it the first time we say it."

The police investigation of this shooting is expected to last 90 days and then the county prosecutor will most likely take it a grand jury for further consideration.

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.