Human Rights

Why Did Cops Shoot 12-Year-Old Black Boy Brandishing Fake Gun?

Research points to the usual suspect: race.

Photo Credit: YouTube

A 12-year-old African American boy was shot by Cleveland police oficers in a playground Saturday afternoon, according to

Tamir Rice died Sunday morning at a local hospital. Police officers htearrived at the playground after a caller dialed 911 to report that someone was pointing a gun at kids on the playground. 

"There's a guy in there with a pistol, you know, it's probably fake, but he's like pointing it at everybody," according to the audio obtained by CNN. "He's sitting on a swing right now, but he's pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people. He's probably a juvenile, you know?"

When cops arrived, the boy didn't point the toy gun at them, but according to Deputy Chief Ed Tomba of the Cleveland Division of Police, he did reach into his pants for what appeared to be a weapon. 

"The officers ordered him to stop and to show his hands and he went into his waistband and pulled out the weapon," he said.

Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on leave as the investigation into what happened takes place. Neither the race of the officers nor their names have been released. The family of Tamir Rice has hired attorney Timothy Kucharski to investigate the case. He was quick to say the shooting wasn't about race but "right and wrong."

"You have to look at this in the context that this is a 12-year-old boy, not a 35-year-old man with a criminal history," Kucharski said. "You can't expect adult reactions out of children."

It's easy to understand why Kucharshi doesn't want to focus on race; he may very well see it as a "distraction." But research proves that police officers or white people in general have a tendency to be more trigger-happy when confronted with a black suspect. A 2002 study revealed how undergraduate students reacted to video simulations in which they were asked to shoot if they thought a black or white person was armed. The white students had higher rates of error when it came to unarmed black suspects. 

For those who say this study doesn't apply because the Cleveland boy had a gun, a 2005 study by Florida State University researchers revealed that white cops were more likely to shoot an unarmed black suspect than a white armed suspect.

Charing Ball of Madame Noire created a list of white men who were armed, yet weren't killed by cops when confronted. Derrick Daniel Thomas of New Orleans walked into a stranger's home with a handgun, committed robbery and shot at the house before fleeing. He also threatened some construction workers and shot at the contractor five times, and led the cops on a chase. When police caught up with Thomas and told him to drop his weapon, he allegedly refused, pointed the gun at the cops and said, “No, you drop your [expletive] gun!” 

Yet somehow, the cops were able to take Thomas into custody unharmed.

So why did police have to shoot and kill BB gun-carrying 12-year-old Tamir Rice? Seems like race might have everything to do with it. 

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.

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