By Liz Hay
Elm Staff Writer
On March 4, a Cleveland police union appealed the firing of the police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. Officer Timothy Loehmann was cleared of all charges in the shooting. However, he was later fired for failing to disclose to the Cleveland Police Department that he had previously been forced out of another police department.
Loehmann was one of two Cleveland officers who responded to a 911 call on Nov. 24, 2014 stating that a black male was pointing “a pistol” at random people in the local recreation center. Although the caller mentioned that the subject was probably a juvenile and that the gun was probably fake, that information was not communicated to the responding officers. It was later discovered that Rice’s “gun” was an airsoft gun.
When the officers reached the scene, they ordered that Rice put his hands up. However, Rice reached into the waistband of his pants. Loehmann interpreted this as a sign of aggression and fired at Rice. The 12-year-old died the next day in the hospital due to his injuries.
The video of the incident is publicly available. Rice is shown sitting in a gazebo when a police vehicle pulls up onto the lawn. Within a couple seconds of the car’s arrival, Rice is crumpled on the ground. It seems impossible that any of his arm movements could rationally have been construed as threatening, since he hardly had time to respond to the officers’ commands before he was shot.
Loehmann had previously worked for a police department in Independence, Ohio. Loehmann resigned from that job in the face of certain termination over his “emotional instability.” Independence Deputy Police Chief Jim Polak said that Loehmann had exhibited a “dangerous loss of composure” during weapons training. His personnel file was not reviewed during Loehmann’s hiring process for the Cleveland PD.
There is no room for such leniency in policing. Police officers admirably take on a dangerous job at great personal risk, but they also wield power over life and death for ordinary citizens. Because of this power, there has to be sufficient infrastructure to ensure that police officers are responsible, trained, and cognizant of their biases. There is no excuse for the Cleveland PD’s oversight on the issue of Loehmann’s background.
By appealing the firing, the police union seems to be taking a stance against such accountability. If Loehmann has shown himself to have an unsuitable character for the occupation, both in training and in his shooting of Rice, then he does not deserve to be a police officer.
Police brutality is an issue that gets to the heart of racism, power, and oppression in America. The solution to it is not solved by polarization between the police community and those who call for reform. It’s not an “us versus them” situation. Everyone, including police themselves, will benefit from more responsible policing.