As long as officers declare themselves to have perceived a threat -- even if there isn't one -- and that perception can be considered "reasonable", they're essentially immune from criminal liability for almost any death or injury they cause in the course of performing their duties.
In the case of Tamir Rice, the reports claim that the officers involved reasonably perceived a mortal threat to themselves when young Rice approached Officer Loemann and reached for his waistband thus justifying the immediate use of lethal force.
The perception of a mortal threat -- even though objectively there wasn't one -- had to do with the dispatch reports of "a black male with a gun" in a park outside a community center.
Here's what's wrong with that analysis:
The perception is based on faulty metrics. The fear the officers felt was due not to any objective threat to themselves or anyone else but due -- entirely in my estimation -- to the fact they were told by dispatch that there was a black male with a gun. A black male with a gun. A BLACK MALE WITH A GUN.
That, all by itself, is considered an existential threat to police and civilians in open carry Ohio.
Not only was Tamir Rice shot and killed -- on sight -- by Ohio police because he was said by a 911 caller to be armed and "brandishing," so was John Crawford III, even though neither of them were actually armed (in the sense of having a weapon with which they could do lethal harm to another) and neither, at the time he was shot and killed, was "brandishing".
All it takes is for someone to say the right words for the executioners to act.
The problem here [8 pg pdf] is police training and Supreme Court rulings that protect the officers who use deadly force even though there may be no objective threat to be neutralized.
Because officers cannot be expected to read the minds of individuals and determine intent, they are instead trained to scrutinized individuals’ behavior for telltale signs. An individual’s actions are often the only signals of their intent. Obviously, if the individual being confronted is reasonably believed to be armed, the officer’s attention to those actions will be intensified. In such a situation, officers are taught to focus on the hands of the individual.3 If the hands move in the direction of a “high-risk area” – an area where a weapon may be concealed, such as inside a jacket, towards the waistband of pants, or under the seat of a car, well trained officers will immediately identify this as a serious threat.
When threat identification is combined with the concept of action versus reaction, an officer’s need to make split-second judgments with respect to the use of force becomes evident. Action versus reaction is simply the recognition that there is a certain amount of time required for every person to recognize a stimulus, formulate a response to that stimulus, and then carry out that response. When applied to deadly force situations, action versus reaction refers to the time it takes for an officer to observe the actions of an individual, such as the movement of an individual’s hands, perceive those actions as threatening, calculate possible responses to the treat, determine what level of force is necessary, and then complete the reaction. The reactions of a well-trained officer may be quick, but they are not instantaneous. The time differential between a threatening action occurring and the ability to respond to that threat always puts law enforcement officers in the position of having to catch-up. The practical effect of action versus reaction in deadly force situations is that officers cannot wait to react until they are absolutely certain of an individual’s malicious intent. If an officer waits to be certain that the individual reaching into a high-risk area is retrieving a weapon, action versus reaction dictates that the weapon could easily be used against the officer before he or she has an opportunity to respond.This is the root of the problem right here. The passage was written by a former FBI trainer now retired, someone whose wisdom, if you want to call it that, has formed the basis for police training with regard to 'threats' and their 'neutralization' for decades. The principle is that perception rules all, and instant action in the face of a perceived 'threat' -- whether there is really a threat to the officer or someone else -- is drilled into the officer over and over, without regard to either the necessity of using lethal force in the first place or to the consequences of the use of lethal force on the victim.
Naturally, under the circumstances, many, many innocent people and people in one kind of crisis or another and many people who are only tangentially 'threats' will be injured and killed. And their injuries and killings will be justified by the likes of this person, for the simple reason that the law allows and protects it and the officer's perceptions of a threat -- perceptions which have been drilled in over and over again -- are all that is necessary to justify a killing or injury by police.
I've long held that 90% or more of police homicides are unnecessary. If there were a different standard of police conduct and a different way of seeing situations (ie: not all hands to waistbands are reaching for a gun; indeed very few are. And even if they were, why should that be a death sentence to be performed by summary execution on the spot? Whatever happened to "due process?") there would be little or no necessity to use lethal force in the first place. If police were trained to see each situation independently (ie: a hand to waistband doesn't necessarily mean a gun will be pulled from said waistband) and not react to each situation as if a deadly threat were present, the number of police homicides could be cut immediately and substantially. If police were trained to be skeptical of dispatch reports based on 911 calls, the number of police homicides could be cut substantially and very quickly. If police were trained to actually assess a situation before going into it guns blazing, the number of police homicides could be cut substantially. If police commanders and chiefs said to their officers that inappropriate use of firearms will result in discipline up to and including termination, the number of police homicides could be cut substantially.
I could go on. The issue is that police are not expected to value any lives but their own, and even then, their self-valuation may be very low. They need to learn to value human life in general, and specifically to value the lives of those who have previously been determined to be disposable.
That day seems always to be far off, but somehow I know it is coming.
These reports that are being cited to justify the police murder of Tamir Rice are shameful, but they represent the state of police belief and practice as it is.
We must change it.