Brown: Accountability in police shootings


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Marcus Brown

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Accountability is a concept introduced to us at a young age. As one grows older and looks to the world, it becomes easier to come away with a contradictory notion to the concept. In an ideal world, actions have consequences that equate to the severity of the action, and they are levied against the party or parties responsible. However, as a black man, you learn fairly quickly that the scales of accountability are disproportionate and usually not in your favor. The killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and the settlement given to his family by the city of Cleveland is the quintessential example of this.

On Nov. 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police at a playground after the toy gun he was playing with was mistaken for a real one. Rice’s 14-year-old sister was tackled and handcuffed as she tried to rush to her wounded brother. Neither of the two first responding officers administered first aid, and Rice died the next day from his gunshot wounds. Neither officer were indicted, and as part of a $6 million settlement to Rice’s family, the city of Cleveland does not have to admit wrongdoing.

When speaking about the settlement, Stephen Loomis, the head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said he hoped Rice’s family uses some of the money from the settlement on “educating the youth of the dangers of possessing a real or replica firearm.” That is to imply that a union representing the police should be telling the family of a child killed by the police to pay for an education on what could I only presume to be how best not be killed by the police.

Once again, we are brought back to the issue of accountability. If the police officers and the city of Cleveland are not culpable, then who is? Furthermore, doesn’t a $6 million settlement imply that somewhere along the line somebody did something wrong? Perhaps my worldview is skewed for believing that monetary punishment is an unusual stipulation for innocence. Or perhaps I am naïve for believing that the conversation is ever centered on innocence as opposed to the most cost-effective way of shifting accountability from those most deserving of consequences.

In an interview with Politico, Loomis said that “Tamir Rice was in the wrong” because he was a “12-year-old in an adult body.” Here, we see clearly the shifting of the scales. In this country, black skin makes you accountable for your actions and the actions done against you to such an extent that you can be believed guilty of your own murder. So what we are saying is that the police officer is not accountable because he allowed an irrational fear based on a faulty social construct to rationalize the killing of a child. Most importantly, we are saying a child is somehow responsible for the prejudices imposed upon him by a woefully misguided society for physiological and anatomical factors that were never in his control.

In all of this it seems to have been forgotten that the officer made the choice to pull the trigger, but Tamir Rice did not choose his body. It was given to him in the same way we are all given the freewill to decide what we deem to be right and wrong. It is the privilege to make choices that necessitate accountability, and it is the responsibility for those of us that make those choices to be accountable for them.

So when I read and reread articles about police shootings of unarmed black men and children, because Tamir Rice was a child, it becomes clear that the concept of accountability has become misconstrued and warped beyond recognition. Despite the court’s rulings, someone was found guilty. Despite the city being able to avoid admitting wrongdoing, someone was held accountable.

When the family was paid a multimillion-dollar settlement, someone paid for that. The only problem is that it wasn’t the truly guilty party.


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