An in-depth look at the Tamir Rice story, the rate of crime in the neighborhood, other factors of adversity

In a tragic turn of events, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio on November 22nd, 2014.

Tamir was at Cuddell Park, less than two miles away from St. Ed’s High School and the Edgewater Yacht Club, where he was seen pointing an Airsoft gun that looked similar to a real gun at others in the park. A frightened citizen called the police, but said that the gun was probably fake, and that there was a chance that Tamir was a juvenile. Still, it seemed, based on 9-11 reports, that there was a person who was pointing a gun at strangers in the park.

Soon after the call, police arrived on the scene, and, this is what transpired according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “The officer ordered the boy to put his hands in the air. Instead, police said, the boy reached for his gun. Deputy Chief Edward Tomba said the boy made no verbal threats to the officer and there was no physical confrontation. The officer fired twice at the boy, hitting him in the stomach at least once.” [The incident has been ruled a homicide, but it has not been ruled as a crime yet. The Cleveland Police are still investigating the incident.]

No question about it, the incident is tragic. No one, not Tamir’s parents, not his peers, not the police, and not the community in question deserves to experience the grief of this event. While this case is extreme, one that quickly became the cause of international headlines, the larger trope of tragedy that this shooting belongs to–confrontation between police and young, non-white men–is all too common an experience in our society, especially in neighborhoods with high levels of crime.

To put it in perspective, here’s a map of the two-mile radius around where Tamir Rice was shot, including markers of all crimes that were reported within one week of the incident. Characters denote either robberies, thefts, burglaries or assaults, and the red star is where Tamir Rice was shot.  crime around Cuddell Park

So, clearly, this is a high trafficked area for crime. Under that logic, it would make sense for a police officer patrolling the area to be on particularly high alert in the event of a call related to criminal activity.

After the shots were fired, Tamir Rice’s 14-year-old sister rushed over to her brother. As she was moving toward him, the police officer tackled and handcuffed her. Their mother describes the incident from her perspective, and explains how she was told by the police “to calm down or they will put [her] in the back of the police car” while her son lay there bleeding on the ground. She shares more of her story here:

Here’s the individual story: Tamir was a 12-year-old black male who lived in a high-crime area. He had been a witness to domestic violence. He, along with his friends, had spent much of their childhood as spectators to criminal activity.

Here’s the larger picture: In Cleveland in 2012, there was a .787% chance for anyone to become the victim of a violent crime. The chance of that was much higher for young individuals. In a 12-year period, roughly 9% of individuals will become the victims of crime under that rate. While many of us can trust the police to keep crime low in some neighborhoods, in neighborhoods like the one Tamir grew up in, it’s very possibly that given the steady incidence of crime they bore witness to throughout their lives, Tamir and his friends did not have as much faith in the effectiveness of police at stopping crime or reacting rightfully to criminal situations. In Cuyahoga County alone, where Tamir was shot, there are still 1,000 unsolved deaths. Imagine how many other, less serious crimes remain unsolved, and thousands more, I’m sure, unreported.

It is impossible to know what Tamir was thinking as he was confronted by the police in that tragic moment, but one thing is for certain. In a life that is surrounded by crime, incidents of trauma, high stress, and domestic assault, anyone, especially 12-year-old boys and unstable police officers, will make mistakes.

The life that many of us take for granted is not the reality that many young men in our nation face. To learn more about the kind of life inner-city youth have to live through, here’s a perspective offered by sociologist Victor Rios. Victor Rios is now a professor at the University of California Santa-Barbara, but he grew up in a life surrounded by crime, even having been incarcerated himself. Hear more about his journey and how it informed his perspective on supporting teens to overcome adversity: