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There will be no charges filed in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
That decision follows yet another weekend of tension over police shootings in Chicago, where two black residents were killed Saturday by officers, amid a city-wide uproar over the department's practices. William Brangham talks with Kris Wernowsky of Cleveland.com and Eddie Arruza of WTTW.
A pair of cases involving police shootings is again focusing much attention on the way law enforcement responds to calls or threats in African-American communities and whether justice is being served.
William Brangham begins our report with the latest from Cleveland.
TIM MCGINTY, Prosecutor, Cuyahoga County:
Based on the evidence they heard, and the law as it applies to police use of deadly force, the grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.
The announcement today came from Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty that the officers involved in the shooting death of Tamir Rice won't be charged with any crime.
Back in 2014, police officers crossed paths with Rice, a black 12-year-old boy, while responding to 911 calls of a man with a gun in a public park, reports that later proved to be inaccurate.
McGinty said that, as officers arrived at the scene, Rice reached for something that looked like a gun. One officer jumped out of the car and shot the boy. It turned out Rice had a toy gun. His death sparked local and national protests.
But, today, prosecutor McGinty said he agreed with the decision not to indict the police.
Given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence didn't indicate criminal conduct by police.
The Cleveland decision follows yet another weekend of tension over police shootings in another Midwestern city, Chicago. Yesterday, friends and family of two black Chicago residents killed early Saturday morning gathered to voice their grief in song.
They huddled outside the Chicago home where the shootings occurred. Chicago police say they were responding to a domestic disturbance report called in by the father of one of those killed, 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier. Police said the officers fired at LeGrier after they were — quote — "confronted" by a combative subject.
LeGrier, who was holding a baseball bat at the time, and reportedly had emotional problems, died. But so did 55-year-old Bettie Jones, who lived on the home's ground floor and who had just finished hosting family for the holiday. Police said Jones, who was known in her neighborhood for working to curb violence, was — quote — "accidentally struck."
For Jones' family and friends, the big question was how a woman who was essentially a bystander ended up being killed.
JACQUELINE WALKER, Friend of Bettie Jones: Why you got to shoot first and ask questions later? It's ridiculous. You all, somebody need to do something about this.
JAHMAL COLE, Relative of Bettie Jones: The night of Christmas, everybody was playing spades, drinking, having fun, celebrating Christmas, like many Chicago families, across the country. She shouldn't have to come outside, open the door, and be shot down by a police officer.
And for LeGrier's mother, the question was why lethal force was used against her son.
JANET COOKSEY, Mother of Quintonio LeGrier: What happened to Tasers? Seven times, my son was shot. Something just needs to be done. I used to watch the news daily and I would grieve for other mothers, other family members. And now today, I'm grieving myself.
Chicago police haven't identified the officers involved. But as part of a new departmental policy, they will be put on desk duty for 30 days.
This weekend's killings are yet another black eye for a department that's already at the center of a citywide uproar, and whose practices are currently under federal investigation. Protests have occurred regularly since last month, when the city released video of the 2014 police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Since then, the officer in that case, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with first-degree murder. The city's police commissioner, Garry McCarthy, resigned. And pressure has mounted on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign as well.
Back in Cleveland, that city's mayor, Frank Jackson, called for calm as news spread about the decision in the Tamir Rice case. Rice's family called for calm as well in a statement. They also said they were — quote — "saddened and disappointed" by this outcome, but not surprised, and they accused prosecutor McGinty of — quote — "abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment."
Let's get a pair of reports now from both cities about the latest, starting with Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
I spoke a short time ago by Skype with Kris Wernowsky, who has been following the case and the community reaction. He's with Cleveland.com, part of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Kris, thanks very much for joining us.
Can you just tell me, what has been the initial reaction to this decision not to indict the officers?
KRIS WERNOWSKY, Cleveland.com:
I think you're seeing a lot of outrage on social media right now. I think Twitter and Facebook have blown up.
I think, from a national perspective, right now, things in the city here are actually pretty quiet. There is a march going on right now from the Cudell Recreational Center where Tamir was shot, down to the Justice Center, which houses our courthouse and jail.
I mean, prosecutor McGinty said in his comments today that the evidence, the video evidence, proved indisputably in his mind that a crime had not been committed. Now, obviously, the family doesn't seem to see it the same way.
Yes, you're right. I think that it's — I think that the family is still grief-stricken and still upset.
And, frankly, I don't think there is much that anybody could say that would convince the family that this was the right decision to make.
I mean, on that video, I know there was some question about how long the officers actually had to warn Tamir to put the gun down before they opened fire. Has that been part of the discussion you have been hearing in Cleveland?
I think there is a lot of dispute over the warning that the police department said that officer Loehmann had given to Tamir. I think people have sort of done their own counting to see if it's possible to give so many warnings as they were speeding up to the scene there where the young boy was shot.
So, you know, I hesitate to speculate, because it's difficult to say exactly what happened, because there is no audio on the video. I think that's a missing component that I think would have helped clarify a lot of the things that are still lingering as questions.
Prosecutor McGinty has also been criticized throughout the process of this grand jury for putting out dribs and drabs of the evidence that seemed to bolster the case not to indict the officers.
Do you think that today's decision is going to quell any of those criticisms?
No. I think he's going to carry this criticism with him.
I mean, he's got an election coming up. And I think — you know, I think he's going to feel this for a long time. And, you know, I think the decision for him to put out the information in bits and pieces, I think, was a response to how the Ferguson grand jury was handled. And I believe that — I mean, it's unusual.
It's not something that you see every day in criminal — in the criminal justice system. And I think part of the reason is the sort of response you're seeing today. You know, we're not seeing a lot of uproar right now. And I think that it sort of helped ease people into what, you know, a lot of people already knew the decision was going to be.
All right, Kris Wernowsky, thank you very much for joining us.
And now let's go back to Chicago, where the conduct of its police department remains front and center.
Eddie Arruza of the local PBS station WTTW and the news program Chicago Tonight spoke with us earlier this evening.
Eddie, thanks for joining us.
Again, can you just give us a sense? This has been a lot of protests we have been seeing in Chicago, and now another tragic shooting happening over the weekend. What's the community reaction been like?
EDDIE ARRUZA, WTTW:
Well, William, so far, there haven't been any kind of demonstrations like the kind that we have seen in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video.
So far, it has been very peaceful. The only show of force, show of support that has happened so far has been a community gathering outside the house where this latest shooting took place. Among the community leaders and activists there were the — was the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr.
So, right now, it's been pretty calm in the wake of that, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of anger and frustration in the community with this latest shooting.
I mean, obviously, there was the one, the tragedy of a — what seemed to be a bystander being killed by police bullets, but then apparently the shooting of this young man, who reportedly had some mental problems.
And I understand that, in the wake of this most recent event, there has been talk of changing police procedures as to how police deal with someone with mental problems. What has been that discussion?
Well, that's right.
As — in the wake of this shooting, the police department admitted that one of the victims was accidentally shot. Now, the circumstances surrounding the shooting of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier are still kind of murky, but, immediately, the mayor ordered a review of the crisis intervention that is — that surrounds how police officers deals with calls surrounding mental health crisis issues.
Whether this young man was suffering from come some sort of mental illness, his father reported that he was irate. His mother said that he had some lingering issues from his youth, when he was in foster care, I believe, for a while. But whether that was the case in this situation still is not clear.
Nevertheless, the mayor has called for a review of these procedures in handling these kinds of calls.
Was there any sense as to whether the police had been told that this might be someone with emotional problems, or was this simply a domestic disturbance complaint?
Well, what we have heard so far is that what they were responding to was a call of domestic disturbance. And that's what we have gotten so far.
When they arrived, we are told that this young man allegedly came down the stairs from a second-floor apartment. And he was holding a baseball bat. And, presumably, the officers felt threatened. And, presumably, that is why they opened fire. At least one officer opened fire, from what we have been told so far. But we still don't have any clear answers.
Obviously, this, as you mentioned, comes after long protests in Chicago over other police actions.
Since then, you have got a new police chief. You have got the new head of a police review board. But there are still calls for the mayor to step down. Are those continuing even after this weekend?
Well, they have.
And there were a number of petitions asking for his resignation. We do not have recall petitions available here in Illinois yet, although that law has been proposed in Springfield. But there still is a lot of frustration and anger at how the mayor and his administration have handled first the Laquan McDonald incident and that video.
And now the mayor is out of the country. He's vacationing in Cuba. We have been told that he is cutting that vacation short, that he will be returning to Chicago tomorrow, although we really don't know how long the vacation was supposed to last or when he left, because city hall has not given us that information.
But there is still a lot of frustration. And it should be pointed out that the head of the police department right now is only the interim superintendent, and that the head of that police review board is also only there in an interim capacity.
So, these individuals are tasked with heading these organizations at a very rough time. Whether they will remain in those positions remains to be seen. But, yes, there remains a lot of frustration.
All right, Eddie Arruza of WTTW, thanks so much.
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