The PJ Tatler

What Really Happened in the Tamir Rice Shooting. UPDATED

Yesterday, a judge ruled there was probable cause to charge the police with murder in the case of young Tamir Rice’s shooting death at the hands of a cop in Cleveland last fall:

A judge in Ohio said on Thursday he had found probable cause to charge a police officer with murder for the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year. Judge Ronald Adrine of the Cleveland municipal court said there were grounds to prosecute officer Timothy Loehmann with murder, manslaughter, reckless homicide and negligent homicide.

Adrine also found there was probable cause for a charge of negligent homicide against officer Frank Garmback, Loehmann’s partner, who was present when Tamir was shot at a park on 22 November while holding a pellet gun.

The judge’s recommendation, however, was brushed aside by Timothy McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, who pledged to proceed as planned with having a grand jury decide on whether the officers should be charged.

“This case, as with all other fatal use of deadly force cases involving law enforcement officers, will go to the grand jury,” McGinty said in a statement. “That has been the policy of this office since I was elected. Ultimately, the grand jury decides whether police officers are charged or not charged.”

The judge’s finding followed community leaders taking advantage of a little-known law to appeal directly to the judge to commence a prosecution of the officer, as is permitted in Ohio and a few other states… Loehmann shot Tamir dead while responding to a 911 call claiming Tamir was pointing his pellet gun. The caller noted the gun was “probably fake”, though it is unclear if that information was shared with the officers.

“Pellet gun” sounds innocent enough, right? Surely only malevolence and race-hatred could have provoked the cop to open fire so quickly. I mean, what other explanation could there possibly be? Via my friend Scott Johnson at Power Line, the rest of the story, as told by ace crime novelist Stephen Hunter:

Seems to be some confusion here. Was it a toy gun or a pellet gun, which are quite different? Well, one place you won’t find the truth is NBC News, which tonight identified the pistol as BOTH a toy and a pellet gun, the first by anchorman Lester Holt, the second by a field correspondent. Of course both were wrong.

It was a Japanese airsoft gun, which fires (on the propulsion of either spring or gas) a 6 mm BB. But the point of airsoft isn’t what it shoots, but what it looks like. These are brilliantly accurate plastic reproductions of real guns. They are accurate to size, color, precise location and scale of operating mechanisms such as safeties or take-down levers, sights, stocks (frequently wood) and even operation. On the automatic versions the slide may be jacked backwards as on the real things, a magazine may be inserted into the butt and, when fired, the gas pneumatically drives the slide back, as if to eject a shell and allow another shell into the chamber. On the revolver variations, the cylnders rotate and may be disengaged from the frame to allow insertion of extremely authentic appearing cartridges into the six chambers. They cock and function, in all interactions, just like the real thing.

They are, in fact, so realistic that police and commando units train with them. They are so realistic that millions of private gun owners have bought them for their own training. In fact, they are so realistic they are by law required to wear orange non-lethal rings at muzzle to proclaim their status as non-guns to onlookers. They are so realistic that a whole global culture has grown up around them, offering ancillary equipment, uniforms, and battle-games up to platoon strength. It’s a way for mostly young men to get their war on without the inconvenience of joining the Marine Corps.

In this case, as Hunter notes, the gun was an exact reproduction of the classic M1911 A1 semi-automatic pistol (known to shooters as “God’s gun”), which was the standard weapon issued to members of the United States military for decades. This was just such a gun — but with one crucial difference:

Of course, no one in media knows any of this, because nobody in media covers or pays attention to such things. They are too busy worrying about Marco Rubio’s traffic record. And it was just such a gun that Tamir Rice was waving, though only a tiny fraction of the coverage has admitted as much, and, furthermore, the orange non-lethal ring had been covered up with black tape.

In other words, it looked exactly like the real thing.

Thus to the police officer, that was no “toy.” It was not a “pellet gun.” It was a 1911A1 .45 automatic of the sort that rode in American holsters in battle zones from 1911 to 1984, when it was replaced by the Beretta. (You can get a Beretta Airsoft if you care to.) So no matter what the narrative insists, this is what happened that night in Cleveland… It is a tragedy what happened to Tamir Rice. And it is a crime: whoever taped the orange muzzle of that Airsoft pistol is a killer. But the police officer merely did his duty.

And that’s the narrative that the media should be telling.

But of course it won’t, because it can’t. As I’ve said in this space before, were I running a journalism school, one of the courses I would make mandatory would be firearms training. But those might require “trigger warnings.”

UPDATEThe airsoft gun apparently belonged to a friend who had removed the orange cap from the realistic-looking toy gun.

A friend of Tamir told sheriff’s deputies he had given the airsoft-type gun to him on the morning of Nov. 22 in exchange for one of the boy’s cellphones and planned to get it back later that day. The friend told sheriff’s deputies he had taken the gun apart to fix it and been unable to reattach the orange cap that goes on the barrel to indicate it isn’t the .45-caliber handgun it’s modeled after.

Investigators were told that Tamir used the airsoft gun, which shoots non-lethal plastic projectiles, to shoot at car tires that day. Loehmann and Garmback were responding to a call about a young man waving and pointing a gun outside the rec center. Grainy, choppy surveillance video shows Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of his police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy. The video appears to show Tamir reaching for the pellet gun, which is tucked in his waistband, when he’s shot.

Also read: 

An Open Letter to the Folks Who Fact Check Gun Reporting at the Associated Press