A step towards justice? Tamir Rice, the NAACP, and a brief history lesson

I’m not sure how many people have heard about this… I wouldn’t have known if my boyfriend hadn’t run into the living room the other evening thrilled that a judge said that Timothy Loehmann had murdered Tamir Rice.  After the news that the killers of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Malissa Williams, and Timothy Russell are walking free it was a relief to hear that there might actually be some justice left in the world.  If a man can kill a child and walk away then… I don’t even know.  Killing any other human being is bad enough but a child…

Without further ado…

Judge Ronald Adrine of the Cleveland municipal court, serving in an advisory capacity, believes that there are grounds for trying the police officers who shot and killed 12 year Tamir Rice with “murder, manslaughter, reckless homicide and negligent homicide”.  The shooting of this young man, who is the same age as my daughter by the way, took place in Cleveland, November 2014, and apparently the entire scene lasted for 2 seconds.  (From The Guardian)  The Guardian has a site called “The Counted” which literally counts the number of people who have been killed by police in the US.  So far this year, 503.  The site shows all their names, states, and in most cases pictures.  By the by, The Guardian is a British publication.

While this is good news, it looks like his case will still be determined by a grand jury.  It was a grand jury that “declined to indict” Darren Wilson for killing 18 year Michael Brown and a grand jury that, just a week later, declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo who choked Eric Garner in New York.  Then there was the Michael Brelo acquittal a couple of weeks ago.  If I didn’t know any better I would say our justice system is racist… oh wait… I do know better and it is racist.  (FYI Brelo was arrested 4 days after the acquittal for fighting with his brother.  Both were charged with assault.  So he can stand on a hood and shoot a man inside the car 15 times and walk away “innocent” of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault, but be found guilty of assault after getting into a drunken fight with his brother all within a week.  I read about the brother fight on CNN)

I digress… I want this blog to be about good things that are happening so it is good that a judge in Cleveland has recognized the guilt of the officers who shot Tamir Rice even if only in an advisory capacity.  But what does this really mean?  I’m not an Ohio law expert by any stretch of the imagination but as I understand it, this judge’s opinion matters not a lick.  Judge Adrine’s two cents came after an obscure Ohio law, which allows community members with “knowledge of the facts” to request that a judge issue an arrest warrant “without approval from the police or prosecutors”, was invoked by several community leaders (from this article with more details on the law and what led to  invoking it.)  But the judge did not issue arrest warrants, he suggested that complaints be filed with the city and county courts.  So really the already very slow trajectory of a case of a white adult man shooting a black child for holding a toy gun has not been affected. (Most of this paragraph, other than the blurb on the law above, comes from this article.)  I highly recommend reading the article, especially the end where Attorney Michael Nelson of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP explains the justice system’s filter that’s added to criminal investigations against cops.

So really, what’s good?  I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about how segregation ended in this country… I’m sorry, that should read “legal segregation” cuz let’s face it, segregation is alive and thriving.  I’m not sure how many of you know what really happened in the 40s and 50s that led to the momentous Brown v Board decision in 1954 but the reality is that it wasn’t just one big battle.  There were little battles being fought all over the country, one small step at a time.

Small history lesson…  Segregation was just the way things were; blacks drank from black water fountains, whites drank from white water fountains.  Black children attended black schools, white children attended white schools.  This story is often told as a black and white issue because that’s what it was in the Eastern half of the country, for the most part, and that’s the story we’re talking about right now.  So here comes Hitler and we are disgusted, as a nation, by what he brings about in Europe.  We feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment in our role to overthrow the genecidal tyrant.  But then the war is over and we start looking around but with new eyes this time, tainted by the memory of a war fought to secure the rights of others.  Even more specifically, a war in which “explicit ideology of racist superiority… was used to justify a quest for world domination.” (Rury, 2005).  There seemed to be a little hypocrisy happening here.. just a smidge.  Don’t get too excited though, if every single person in the country was appalled by the double standard our society would be a much better place for all of us.  But just enough people were appalled to start in on those legal battles I mentioned earlier.  Actually I probably didn’t word that correctly… there were those who were already fighting to end segregation but much of the general white, US public was apathetic until the double standard was screaming in their faces.

Most of these small battles were fought in the realm of education and were taking issue with the “separate but equal” clause of the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson case.  In 1938 Lloyd Gaines, a black man with a college degree was rejected from the University of Missouri Law School on the grounds of his race.  Gaines, with his NAACP lawyer Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, successfully fought this decision arguing that there are no separate facilities of equal value for him to attend.  The U.S. Supreme Court agreed and the University of Missouri either had to create a separate but equal law school for black students (or in this case just one black student) or they had to admit him into the already established law school.  Though I’m sure many of the school administrators would have liked the separate option, it was a fiscally ludicrous alternative.  There are many, many other cases with a similar thread.  Establish a precedent for a particular issue in one state, get the U.S. Supreme Court stamp of approval, and all of a sudden one barrier to desegregation is pulled down. (I read a document in legalese about this and didn’t want to get through the fluff so I found a much simpler explanation on a PBS site called “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Jim Crow Stories“.  This is something I studied in grad school and taught about at Loyola University Chicago during my adjuncting semesters there.)

What in the world does this have to do with Tamir Rice, you may be asking… I bring it up because it worked, in a legal sense at least.  I see the same thing happening now.  For example, were you to visit the NAACP’s website right this very second, you’d immediately see a link to their statement on the “McKinney Police Department Incident” in which they announce that they will be advocating on behalf of the families of the involved children with the McKinney Chief of Police.  They go on to write that “We are calling for a full investigation of the McKinney Police Department officers and that they be held accountable to the full extent of the law”.  The NAACP is tackling police violence against mostly black men head on and that is a very, very good thing.  Obviously there will be no overnight solution to this ongoing tragedy but there will be progress, there has to be progress.

I will maintain hope that the justice system will not fail Tamir and his family a second time; but I would be lying if I said I was 100%, or even 55% confident about it.  I would really like to do some more research on the NAACP’s involvement with other cases of police brutality so I might post about that in the future, but for now I want to get this out there before the news of the judge’s opinion is completely overshadowed by the Cavs and Rachel Dolezal; if that hasn’t already happened.

Rury, J.L. (2005). Education and Social Change: Themes in the History of American Schooling. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. London.

Categories: JusticeTags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Excellent article!


  2. Great first few posts for your blog Renee. I applaud your efforts to highlight the issues that are currently at the forefront of Cleveland life. Great work and great discussion.


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