Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
Family reacts as officials offer few details on the long investigation into the 12-year-old's death.
Jaeah LeeMay 11, 2015 4:31 PM
Protesters in Cleveland on Nov. 25, 2014, following the police shooting of Tamir Rice.
Nearly six months after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death by Cleveland police, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department gave its first press conference on Tuesday about its ongoing criminal investigation. In a brief statement, Cuyahoga County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney told reporters that his team had "poured over thousands of pages of documents, and conducted numerous search warrants and interviews with witnesses." Investigators have also taken 3D scans from the Cuddell Recreation Center grounds, where Rice died, and reviewed all surveillance footage from the surrounding area, Pinkney said. He also said that "a few more witnesses need to be interviewed and more forensic evidence needs to be collected," and that "a majority of our work is complete." Pinkney declined to take any questions and said he would provide no deadline for when the investigation would end.
Following Pinkey's statement, reporters huddled around a woman named Latonya Goldsby, who said she was a cousin of Rice. Goldsby wept as she told reporters that Rice's family had no idea that the sheriff would be delivering the statement—the agency's first since taking over the investigation in January—until seeing it described on the news Monday night. She said that she rushed to the press conference expecting the sheriff to announce plans to charge the officers involved in Rice's death. "My family is very disappointed with how this investigation has transpired," she said. "There is no transparency in Cleveland." She added: "I feel so disgusted with the city of Cleveland for not showing some type of compassion to my family. We had to bury a 12-year-old kid." [Updated May 12, 12:55 p.m. ET; original story starts below.]
On Tuesday, nearly half a year since 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed at a community center park by a Cleveland police officer, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department will make its first public statement about the progress of its criminal investigation. Sheriff Clifford Pinkney will review the timeline of the investigation from the day Rice was shot until present, and what remains to be done, according to a county official familiar with the case. Citing the ongoing investigation, Pinkney's office says he plans to take no questions from the media following the statement.
The sheriff's department has remained quiet about the investigation ever since taking it over from the Cleveland Police Department in January, despite mounting questions about how long the process has taken in light of explicit video footage of the killing and the troubling police record of Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fired the fatal shots. The few details about the investigation that have come to light so far have been via court filingsissued as part of the Rice family's wrongful death suit against the city of Cleveland. Last week, Loehmann and fellow officer Frank Garmback filed a motion in that case seeking to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
The Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department declined to comment on the record about the two officers' role in the ongoing criminal investigation.
Political infighting may have been a factor in the prolonged process: After Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson asked the county to take over the investigation in early January, the sheriff's department requested help from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, against Jackson's wishes. DeWine had previously said that a 2012 police shooting involving another officer, Michael Brelo, revealed a "systemic failure" at the Cleveland PD. Brelo currently faces voluntary manslaughter charges for shooting and killing two unarmed black suspects during a car chase, and a verdict is expected this month. (Thirteen officers were involved that case, but Brelo was the only one charged.) The handover of the Rice case also coincided with the start of a new Cuyahoga County executive's term.
Still, particularly against the backdrop of ongoing national news about officer-involved killings, the pace of the Rice investigation has been troubling, says Ayesha Bell Hardaway, alaw professor at Case Western Reserve University and a former Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor. "The lapse of time from Tamir's death until now has been too great," she says, adding that "the public's confidence in the police department and the city of Cleveland is hanging in the balance."
Some people in Baltimore face some of the worst life prospects in the nation.
Edwin Rios and Jaeah LeeMay 6, 2015 6:20 AM
In the wake of Baltimore's upheaval, President Obama, amongothers, reminded the country that the city's long-standing economic inequality was beneath the response to Freddie Gray's death. "This is not new," Obama said. "This has been going on for decades."
In a new study published this week, a group of Harvard economists quantified Baltimore's problem with economic mobility. Of the 100 largest counties in the country, they found, Baltimore was where children in low-income households faced the worst odds in terms of upward mobility, followed by Mencklenburg, North Carolina; Hillsborough, Florida; Orange, Florida; and Cook, Illinois.
That's just one of many sobering measures of life for some in Baltimore, as the Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, and others have pointed out in recent days. Here are a few examples:
Life expectancy in 15 Baltimore neighborhoods, including the one where Freddie Gray lived, is shorter than in North Korea, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. In eight Baltimore neighborhoods, the life expectancy rate is worse than in Syria.
Baltimore teens between 15 and 19 years old face poorer health conditions and a bleaker economic outlook than those in economically distressed cities in Nigeria, India, China, and South Africa, according to recent research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Teens in Baltimore, along with Johannesburg, saw the highest prevalence of sexual violence, substance abuse, depression, and PTSD. They were also most likely to report witnessing community violence.
In 2014, Baltimore—a city where the unemployment rate (8.1 percent) is nearly one and a half times than the national rate (5.5 percent)—had one of the largest gaps between the rich and poor in the country, according to the Brookings Institution. The typical Baltimore resident in the bottom fifth of earners made $13,588 in 2013, whereas those in top 5 percent made an average of $166,924 that year.
In 2010, Baltimore had Maryland's highest rate of arrests for marijuana possession, and Maryland had one of the highest such arrest rates in the country, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Baltimore incarcerates a greater portion of its population than New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles County, according to the Justice Policy Institute. It also has one of the highest inmate populations in the country, according to the latest available Bureau of Justice Statistics data.
Justice Policy Institute
When it comes to income inequality between blacks and whites, Baltimore is not alone. As FiveThirtyEightreported, this racial disparity is common in cities where at least 10 percent of the population is black.
Questions hang over Ohio's investigations into the deaths of John Crawford and Tamir Rice.
Jaeah LeeMay 5, 2015 6:25 AM
A protester holds up a picture of Tamir Rice on December 1, 2014.
While all eyes were on the unrest in Baltimore last week following Freddie Gray's death in police custody, many miles away Gov. John Kasich of Ohio announced a new advisory board intended to improve ties between police and communities across his state. The initiative, one among a few in the country, comes as Ohio authorities continue to face questions about two controversial police killings of black people. Unlike in Baltimore, where six officers were charged on Friday with crimes including manslaughter and murder, none of the officers involved in the recent killings in Ohio has faced criminal prosecution, despite video footage raising stark questions in both cases about the use of lethal force.
A grand jury declined to indict the two officers involved in the fatal shooting last August of 22-year-old John Crawford at a Walmart in Beavercreek, a predominantly white suburb of Dayton. Crawford allegedly brandished a rifle in a store aisle, and when Cleveland police officer Sean Williams and his partner, Sergeant David Darkow, came upon Crawford, Williams quickly fired two shots. The officers later told investigators that Crawford had ignored commands to drop the weapon, which turned out to have been a BB gun for sale on a store shelf. A US Department of Justice review of the case is pending.
"Half a year is an extremely long time" for the investigation to remain unfinished, says an Ohio legal expert.
In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department continues to investigate the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who'd been playing with a toy gun in a park near his home last November. Responding to a 911 call about someone pointing a pistol that was "probably fake," Cleveland PD officers drove up to the scene, where surveillance camera footage showed one of the officers, Timothy Loehmann, shooting Rice almost instantly upon arrival. The other officer then tackled and restrained Rice's sister when she tried to run over to her dying brother. More than five months since Rice's death, the investigation has not been completed, despite the explicit video evidence and Loehmann's dubious record as a police officer.
"Half a year is an extremely long time," says Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and a former Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, especially given the video, the details of the 911 calls, and "the questions raised about Officer Loehmann's fitness for duty."
Lewis Katz, a Case Western Reserve professor specializing in criminal law, feels that "the case is clear-cut." And he says that he expects Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty to bring charges soon. (McGinty is in the midst of a prosecution against another Cleveland officer for a 2012 police shooting in which two unarmed people were killed, a case expected to end shortly.)
Cleveland city attorneys suggested that the 12-year-old Rice was responsible for his own death because he'd failed "to exercise due care to avoid injury."
Shortly after Rice's death, the Justice Department released the findings of a two-year civil rights investigation into the Cleveland Police Department, which revealed a pattern of "unreasonable and unnecessary use of force." Nevertheless, when Rice's family filed a wrongful death suit against Cleveland, city attorneys responded suggesting that Rice was responsible for his own death because he'd failed "to exercise due care to avoid injury." The statement drew outrage; Cleveland's mayor later apologized for the insensitivity and revised the language. City attorneys have since asked to halt the Rice family's lawsuit until the criminal investigation is complete. But Rice's family opposedthe request on Monday, arguing that doing so would risk "the loss of critical evidence" because key witnesses could move away or become less reliable over time.
Following the announcement of murder charges in Baltimore on Friday, civil rights activists called on the Ohio attorney general once again to bring charges against the officers involved in killing Rice and Crawford. "Public pressure seems to have certainly played a role in Baltimore," Hardaway says. "As much as I want to resist the urge to compare what has happened in Baltimore with what has yet to happen in Cleveland," she says, "I'm concerned by the fact that the same transparency is not taking place in Cleveland."
Ohio's new 12-member police advisory board, comprised of law enforcement officials and community members, will set standards governing the use of deadly force and the hiring and recruiting for police departments across the state. But it remains to be seen what changes the board will bring, says Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies the regulation of police. "Typically states haven't exercised a tremendous deal of control over local police agencies," he says, and it's rare for states to step into matters of police discipline.
"Policing is fundamentally local," agrees David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Strengthening ties between police and communities requires building long-term relationships, and "difficult, sustained efforts to communicate and help each other," he says. "Those efforts cannot be done through state-wide rule making, however well intentioned it might be."
Building trust in a community like the one where Rice was killed may be particularly challenging after a plodding investigation, whatever the result. Rice's mother recently moved to a homeless shelter to get out of the neighborhood where her son died. She and her family still await closure, and not only with the legal investigation. "Because it is unknown whether there may need to be an additional medical examination," a family court filing stated, "the body of Tamir Rice has not [been] put to rest."
A protester at a Baltimore PD building on April 21
For many in Baltimore, Freddie Gray's death was shocking but came as little surprise. It was only a matter of time, some said, before Baltimore erupted the way Ferguson, Missouri, did last summer. While no one knows exactly how many Americans die in police custody each year, limited data gathered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics starts to give some sense of scale: At least 4,813 people died while in custody of local and state law enforcement between 2003 and 2009, according to the latest available report, published in 2011. Sixty-one percent of those deaths were classified as homicides.
As I reported last August in Mother Jones, the BJS collects data on what it calls "arrest-related deaths" that occur either during or shortly after police officers "engage in an arrest or restraint process." The agency reports that 41.7 percent of those who were deemed to have been killed by police while in custody were white, 31.7 percent were black, and 20.3 percent were Hispanic. (Others died from intoxication, suicide, or by accidental, natural, or unknown causes.)
But you could be forgiven for suspecting that's not the full picture: There were an estimated 98 million arrests in the United States by local, state, and federal law enforcement from 2003 to 2009, according to FBI statistics. Fifteen states, plus the District of Columbia, did not consistently report deaths in police custody during that period—and Maryland, along with Georgia and Montana, didn't submit any records at all.
In other words, as the turmoil in Baltimore continues, what the data seems to tell us at this point is just how much we still don't know.
How the kids of the Inner Harbor Project are schooling local cops.
Jaeah LeeApr. 28, 2015 3:59 PM
The group's "peace ambassadors"
Since protests sprang up across Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray's death last week and turned increasingly violent on Monday night, cleanup crews and residents—including kids—have been working to repair the city. But long before the protests for Gray there were teens like Diamond Sampson, a Baltimore high school student who three years ago started working with a group of peers on the Inner Harbor Project, an effort to defuse tension between Baltimore's youth and its police.
Sampson says she's felt disheartened by the violence, but she sympathizes with the anger and frustration. Part of why the peaceful protests first spiraled out of control on Saturday, she says, is that some people walking by them shouted, "Black lives didn't matter"—a detail that she feels the media overlooked.
Sampson was one of the first teens to be recruited by Inner Harbor Project founder Celia Neustadt, who grew up in Baltimore and was one of four white students in her own high school class. After going on to graduate from Pomona College, Neustadt returned to the city to start the initiative, with Sampson as her first recruit. Since then, dozens of Baltimore teens have joined and helped conduct "trainings" for the Baltimore Police Department's Inner Harbor unit. They've often walked the harbor—a tourism destination and popular hangout for inner-city teens—as self-declared "peace ambassadors," wearing matching blue T-shirts and watching out for trouble: If a cop and a teen start arguing, they move in to help mediate. The group now has formal partnerships with local businesses and the police.
The current unrest pains Neustadt: "I know kids who saw the protests as an opportunity to, as my kids say, 'act a fool.' They thought this was an opportunity to take out anger on the city without consequences. Our work is front and center right now. There are so many young people in this city with nothing to lose."
In the days to come, the Inner Harbor Project's members are planning to use their social networks to try to stop agitators and recruit future youth ambassadors. In conversations with friends, Sampson says there's been talk about human rights for black teens and even a new civil rights movement. Whether or not that takes shape, she adds, "there's something going on, greater than our generation can realize."