Title: GHOST BOYS
Author: JEWELL PARKER RHODES
Genre: MIDDLE GRADE FICTION, DIVERSE BOOKS
Length: 224 PAGES
Publisher: LITTLE BROWN PUBLISHING
Release Date: APRIL 17, 2018
Price: $9.99 USD
Rating: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick
A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.
Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.
Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.
Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.
With the current social and political climate in the United States, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the growing list of young, black men being killed in confrontations with police, this book is a timely one. This book was in part based on the police shooting of 12 year old TAMIR RICE.
Jerome, a twelve year old African American boy is shot in the back by a white police officer. Sound familiar? It should. This horrifying situation occurs all-too-often in modern day America.
This book is not only engaging and compelling, it is also necessary. I wish there was no reason for a book like this to be written, but sadly wishing does not make change.
Action makes change.
Knowledge leads to change.
When Jerome (as a ghost) realizes that even though he had always lived in Chicago, he didn’t know much about his city and it’s offerings and opportunities, he thinks: “Wish I’d known the world was so much bigger and better than my neighborhood.” I found this both very telling, and very sad. This may seem a trivial quote from the book and one that is non-essential. I do not see it that way. I see it as just another part of the dysfunctional whole.
Knowledge leads to change.
The first step to changing the fact that young black men are being murdered (yes, murdered – it is murder when a person is shot with no provocation) is to make people aware of what is happening. When people are aware, they can choose to do something about it, even if that something is just making sure to pass the word on to more and more people.
Author Jewell Parker Rhodes has crafted a tale that, while written by a black woman, will resonate with both white and black readers. She has taken her story straight from the headlines of National News agencies. This book is important NOW.
When Jerome dies, his ghost stays in the city he was murdered in. The only living person who can see him is a white girl who is the same age as Jerome. Her name is Sarah. This white girl, however, just happens to be the daughter of the man who shot him.
How is that for a twist in the story?
Jerome should hate her and her whole family right? But, wait a minute.
She is NOT responsible for her father’s actions. She is only twelve years old and she really wants to help Jerome in any way she can.
Both Jerome and Sarah can see other ghosts. One ghost in particular decides to talk to them and to help them with their quest for justice. That lonely spirit is none other than the ghost of Emmett Till. Together maybe they can make a difference.
Adding actual historical figures to this story makes it even more impactful.
Reading this book is also the perfect way for parents to start discussions with their children about what is currently happening to young black boys (and a few girls) in today’s society.
It is sad that this topic is still an issue, and it is also completely unacceptable.
It was 1955 when Emmett Till was abducted, beaten, and murdered by two adult white men. His supposed crime? Whistling at a white woman. In 2017, fifty-two years after Emmett was murdered, the woman in question, admitted she lied about Emmett whistling at her. She tried to justify her actions by saying that it was just the way things were back then. Bull Spit.
I applaud Jewell Parker Rhodes for tackling such an emotional topic and writing about it from multiple perspectives. This could not have been an easy book to write.
I rate GHOST BOYS as 5 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE WHO CARES ABOUT OUR SOCIETY, as well as to everyone who cares about Human Rights. Black, White or Brown; it doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is. All that matters is that you are a living, breathing human. It is EVERYONE’S moral obligation to do whatever is within their power to eradicate racism and discrimination in our society. This may seem like a monumental challenge, but as it says in GHOST BOYS:
“Can’t undo wrong. Can only do our best to make things right.”
To learn more about shootings in the United States, visit FATAL ENCOUNTERS – A website
FATAL ENCOUNTERS is creating an impartial, comprehensive, and searchable national database of people killed during interactions with law enforcement.
“Uproar. Panic. Stomping. Cameras flashing. ‘No photos,’ asserts the clerk. Reporters are shouting questions. Community action are demanding justice. Ma, Pop, and Gramma huddle, cling and cry.”
“Sarah already sees me. Better than her Dad ever did.”
“When truth’s a feeling, can it be both?Both true and untrue?”
“People tell the dead, ‘Rest in peace.’ I haven’t any. Rest or peace.”
“Wish I’d known the world was so much bigger and better than my neighborhood.”
“Can’t undo wrong. Can only do our best to make things right.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jewell Parker Rhodes has always loved reading and writing stories. Born and raised in Manchester, a largely African-American neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh, she was a voracious reader as a child. She began college as a dance major, but when she discovered there were novels by African Americans, for African Americans, she knew she wanted to be an author. She wrote six novels for adults, two writing guides, and a memoir, but writing for children remained her dream.
Now Jewell has published four children’s books: Ninth Ward, Sugar, Bayou Magic, and Towers Falling. Her fifth, Ghost Boys, will be released in spring of 2018. She’s also published six adult novels, two writing guides, and a memoir. When she’s not writing, she’s visiting schools to talk about her books with the kids who read them, or teaching writing at Arizona State University, where she is the Piper Endowed Chair and Founding Artistic Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. She has won multiple awards for her writing.
To learn more about this author, visit the following links:
MORE BOOKS BY JEWELL PARKER RHODES:
GHOST BOYS was partly inspired by the death of TAMIR RICE.
Who was Tamir Rice? And, what happened to him?
Tamir was at Cudell by midmorning on the Saturday he got shot. Usually he’d play basketball or Ping-Pong or games on an old phone that could connect to the rec-center Wi-Fi. But his friend had an Airsoft pellet gun his dad bought him at Walmart, a replica of a Colt 1911 semi-automatic. It was supposed to have an orange tip on the barrel, except it stopped working once and Tamir’s friend took it apart and ﬁxed it but couldn’t get the orange part back on. They traded, Tamir and his friend, a cell phone for the pellet gun, but only for the day: Tamir knew he’d catch hell if his mom found out he was playing with a toy gun.
He shot BBs at a few car tires in the parking lot, showed his friend how they didn’t go straight. He knew enough to put the gun in his backpack when he went inside the rec center, though. He was there almost every day, never caused a problem and wasn’t going to start.
Samaria gave Tamir and his sister turkey sandwiches and fruit when they came home for lunch, and a few dollars to get chips and juice from the corner store. Then they went back to Cudell. Tamir was inside the rec center for a while, then outside, back and forth for more than an hour. On the sidewalk out front, he played with the pellet gun, drawing and pointing at pretend people and, sometimes, real people. No one seemed alarmed, though. Everyone knew Tamir, knew he was a kid, knew he was playing. Even if they didn’t, Tamir didn’t appear menacing: A man named Joe who was 81 and came to practice with an old-timers’ basketball league saw Tamir pointing his gun at the ground only a few feet away and just ignored him.
A little after three o’clock, a guy with a tall-boy showed up in the park to wait for a 3:30 bus downtown. He didn’t know Tamir. He saw a baby-faced guy, ﬁve feet seven, almost 200 pounds—Tamir was a big kid—pulling a gun in and out of his pants. Acting all gangsta, he thought. The man called 911 at 3:22. He was a little slurry, but not frantic. He politely asked the operator how she was, then told her he was sitting in a park. “There’s a guy in here with a pistol,” he said, “and, you know, it’s probably fake, but he’s, like, pointing it at everybody.” The operator asked him where he was, exactly, and the caller repeated what he said the ﬁrst time: “The guy keeps pulling it in and out of his pants—it’s probably fake, but you know what? He’s scaring the shit out of me.” He described Tamir’s clothes and then reported the guy with the pistol had moved to one of the swings on the playground. “Probably a juvenile, you know?” Finally: “He’s right nearby the, you know, the youth center or whatever, and he keeps pulling it in and out of his pants. I don’t know if it’s real or not.”
The 911 operator’s notes were passed to a dispatcher, who requested a squad car respond to Cudell park. She said there was a black male sitting on the swings, and she described his clothing. “So he keeps pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people,” she said.
Another dispatcher cut in. “How many calls are we getting for that?”
“Nah, just the one so far.”
She left out the words probably fake and probably a juvenile, and categorized it as a Code 1 call, the highest priority.
At a church a mile south of Cudell, officer Frank Garmback was ﬁnishing up a false-alarm call with his partner, Timothy Loehmann, a probationary rookie who’d been on the force for about nine months and only patrolling the streets for about three. Garmback, in fact, was Loehmann’s ﬁeld-training officer, responsible for teaching him how to become a proper police officer.
That was something at which Loehmann had failed multiple times. Almost two years earlier, he’d resigned from the police department in suburban Independence, which was going to ﬁre him if he didn’t. In less than ﬁve months—most of which he’d spent at the academy—he’d been caught twice lying to his superiors, and he’d had his weapon taken away after a weepy breakdown on the shooting range. That was about a woman.
Being unable to separate his personal problems from the job, Deputy Chief Jim Polak wrote, “leads one to believe that he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation.”
Emotional immaturity is the phrase Polak used in a ﬁve-page memo listing all the reasons Loehmann shouldn’t be a cop. “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deﬁciencies,” he wrote.
But Loehmann kept at it. He applied to four other departments but got no offers. In September 2013, he failed the written exam for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department. Three months later, the Cleveland Division of Police gave him a conditional appointment. On March 3, 2014, he was hired as a patrolman.
Garmback drove. Cudell was a straight shot north on West Boulevard, across Madison, and into a parking lot separated from the playground by knee-high wooden posts. But Garmback took a different route, to a narrow block that dead-ends at the park. There were no posts there, only a few spindly trees.
The squad car bumped over the curb. The swings were empty. The only person anywhere nearby, in fact, was sitting at a concrete picnic table under a gazebo a few yards beyond the swings. He was not ﬁddling with a gun. He wasn’t doing anything at all.
Garmback did not stop.
Tamir stood up, took a few casual steps around the table.
Garmback braked. The squad car slid on wet grass dusted with snow. When it was even with Tamir, before it had stopped, Loehmann got out and ﬁred. The muzzle of his gun was less than seven feet away.
Garmback radioed that shots had been ﬁred. Black male down. Send an ambulance.
He and Loehmann did not help the boy on his back on a slab of cement, his small intestine spilling out of the hole in his abdomen. For four minutes, Tamir lay bleeding alone.
Survillance cameras recorded the entire encounter. Had Garmback and Loehmann been a couple of local gangbangers in a Toyota, that video would have been enough to convince a grand jury that there was probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, most likely aggravated murder. It happened so quickly, and with the shooter approaching the victim, that a claim of self-defense would have been laughable.
But police officers are not held to the same standards as civilians, nor should they be. They are expected to insert themselves into potentially volatile situations, to confront bad guys with weapons, to stand between chaos and public order. They will at times, even if only for a heartbeat, genuinely fear for their lives or the lives of others. There is a library of case law giving officers wide leeway on the use of deadly force. But these two guys drove up and shot a kid. And it’s on video. “What we have is objective evidence that they summarily executed this child as fast as humanly possible,” says Jonathan S. Abady, one of the attorneys representing Tamir’s estate, mother, and sister. “There is nothing Tamir could have done to not get shot that day.”
“It was almost like they were trying to blame me,” Samaria Rice said. “They were talking to me like I was a bad mother, like I gave him that BB gun.”
Maybe a jury would never convict them, and maybe McGinty would somehow believe the shooting was justiﬁed. But the major evidence to make that initial decision—whether to seek an indictment or not—was plainly visible. Weeks passed and McGinty did not make a determination one way or the other. Winter came and went and then most of spring. In early June, the sheriff’s department gave McGinty’s office a 211-page summary of its investigation. A week later, a sitting judge, ruling on a petition from eight perturbed citizens, issued a non-binding opinion that there was probable cause to charge both officers with crimes, including murder (Loehmann) and negligent homicide (Garmback). “After viewing [the video] several times,” Judge Ronald B. Adrine wrote, “this court is still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly.”
Still, no decision from McGinty.
Finally, at a meeting in the beginning of summer, almost seven months after Tamir was killed, Abady and his colleagues asked what was taking so long. An assistant prosecutor, according to Abady, said McGinty was trying to be “fair and thorough.” He also said he was trying to ﬁnd experts who could tell a grand jury whether the shooting was justiﬁed.
That is highly irregular. For one, experts rarely testify before grand jurors. The bar for an indictment is so low that any prosecutor with a functional ability to speak in complete sentences can clear it. Two, if an expert believes killing Tamir was legally permissible, what’s the point? If the prosecutor agrees, why waste the grand jury’s time?
But set all that aside. Stipulate that fairness and thoroughness require experts to testify. There are many well-credentialed and prominent scholars who study police procedure; credible ones are not difficult to ﬁnd. Who, Abady wanted to know, are those experts upon whom McGinty would be relying?
“People,” Abady was told, “who you’ve never heard of.”
The first two experts McGinty hired were a prosecutor from Colorado and a former FBI agent wh ko now an associate professor.
S. Lamar Sims, the prosecutor, was familiar to McGinty already: He’d spoken at a March 12, 2015, forum on deadly force hosted by McGinty’s office, focusing speciﬁcally on how difficult it is, legally, to indict officers. Two months after that, in May, Sims had explained on a local Denver TV channel how he believed killings by police should be evaluated. “Often we will learn things, facts, after the incident that a reasonable officer did not know, or could not have known, at the time,” he said. “The community may react to facts learned later. For example, looking around the nation, say you have a 12- or 13-year-old boy with a toy gun. We learn that later. The question is, what did the officer know at the time? What should a reasonable peace officer have known at the time when he or she took the steps that led to the use of physical force or deadly physical force?” That, he said, “is a difficult thing for a lot of people to understand.”
Kimberly A. Crawford, the professor, was a supervisory special agent in the legal instruction unit at the FBI academy for 18 years. In that role, she co-authored a report that defended a sniper in the shooting of a ﬂeeing woman during the Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992, which a Department of Justice task force later criticized in part for interpreting legal standards on deadly force in a manner too favorable to law enforcement.
Both Sims and Crawford focused only on the instant immediately before Loehmann ﬁred, which, in their view, was the only legally relevant issue. Neither spoke to Loehmann or Garmback, but how was either officer supposed to know Tamir was a kid and the gun he might have had was a toy? Of course, stopping a few feet from Tamir gave them no time to learn either of those facts. But since they did, Crawford reasoned, “it becomes apparent that not only was Officer Loehmann required to make a split-second decision, but also that his response was a reasonable one.” Meanwhile, to question that tactical decision, Sims argued, “is to engage in exactly the kind of ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ the case law exhorts us to avoid.” (Crawford called it “armchair quarterbacking.” In her analysis, “Whether the officers’ actions were courageous or foolhardy is not relevant to a constitutional review of the subsequent use of force.”)
McGinty released both of those reports to the public by posting them on his office’s website at eight o’clock on the Saturday night of Columbus Day weekend. Zoe Salzman, an attorney who works with Abady, remembers the time because she got her ﬁrst phone call from a reporter at 8:01. That would suggest the reports were shared with the media before they were posted. They were not, however, shared with Samaria Rice or her attorneys. “They gave us no heads-up that those reports were coming,” Salzman says. And by the time they returned from the holiday weekend and began to adequately critique the reports, the news cycle had moved on.
A third report, from a former Florida sheriff and consultant named W. Ken Katsaris—whom McGinty had hired to testify against a police officer in a previous case—was released on a Thursday in November. He, too, found the shooting justiﬁed. That perspective was not shared with Samaria Rice or her attorneys before it was posted. McGinty, in a statement released with the Katsaris report, said that he was being open and transparent and most deﬁnitely wasn’t drawing any conclusions but rather laying off that responsibility on the grand jurors. “I have faith in the people of this county,” he said, “to fulﬁll their sworn duty to make a correct and honorable decision.”
By the middle of November 2015, almost a year after Tamir was killed, McGinty still wouldn’t say whether he thought either officer should be charged with a crime. But he had presented to the grand jury—and released to the public—the opinions of three experts that, in clear and conﬁdent language, absolved Garmback and Loehmann.
At a political forum on November 5, McGinty had also introduced another element into the public narrative his office was crafting: Samaria Rice was trying to make a buck off her dead boy. When he was asked about criticisms Abady and others had made of the Sims and Crawford reports (Katsaris wouldn’t be released for another week), he answered, “Well, isn’t that interesting. They waited until they didn’t like the reports they received. They’re very interesting people, let me just leave it at that. They have their own economic motives.” He later tried to walk that back, saying he’d meant Samaria’s representatives were gold diggers. In a way, that was even worse, as it implied she was too stupid to realize she was being manipulated by greedy lawyers.
At that same forum, McGinty also invoked the sacred secrecy of the grand-jury process. “We want to encourage people to come in, be able to tell the truth, without intimidation, in the search for the truth,” he said. That would seem in obvious conﬂict with his vows of transparency, but no matter. As part of that search, he’d invited Samaria’s attorneys to go ﬁnd their own experts on police shootings.
That’s how Roger Clark, the retired cop who got the toy gun stuck in his face, became involved. If a prosecutor presenting his own experts to a grand jury is uncommon, bringing in experts hired by the victim of a shooting is unprecedented. “It puts the victim in the unusual position of having to be the advocate,” says Earl Ward, one of the lawyers for Tamir’s family. “No, unusual is too light: I’ve never heard of it. In my 30 years of experience, this is the ﬁrst time.”
In more than 20 years, Clark had testiﬁed once as an expert before a grand jury, but never as one retained by the dead person’s family. And Jeffrey J. Noble, another consultant hired on behalf of Tamir, had never done so at all. He was a cop for 28 years, retiring as deputy chief of the Irvine, California, police department in 2012. He wrote chapters for police textbooks on tactical recklessness and the notorious code of silence among officers; co-wrote a book on internal-affairs investigations; and, as a consultant, has reviewed hundreds of use-of-force cases. As a cop, he also used deadly force.
Noble knew Clark only by professional reputation and in fact had disagreed with him in another use-of-force case. But he agreed that the shooting of Tamir was unjustiﬁed, and for the same reasons. McGinty’s experts focused only on the fraction of a second when Loehmann ﬁred: a police officer only a few feet from a ﬁve-foot-seven 195-pound person who matched the description of a man reported to have a gun who was reaching into his waistband. If all of that were true—though the part about where Tamir’s hands were and what they were doing is in legitimate dispute—it was reasonable for Loehmann to fear for his life, according to Sims, Crawford, and Katsaris.
But the few seconds before that, Noble argued, were just as important, both legally and practically. Under accepted police standards, Loehmann never should have been that close to Tamir that quickly. When they entered the park, the officers saw, or should have seen, one person, alone, not threatening anyone. There was no need for Garmback to rush him. “Reasonable police officers responding to a man-with-a-gun call,” Noble wrote in his report, “would have stopped their vehicle prior to entering the park to visually survey the area to avoid driving upon a subject who may be armed. This serves not only to protect the officers, but also serves to protect others who may be in the area and provides both time and distance for the officers to evaluate the situation and develop a plan.”
Noble’s function, admittedly unusual, was simply to give the grand jurors another learned perspective. Neither his opinion nor those of Clark, Sims, and the others could be used to convict or acquit anyone. “As an expert,” Noble says, “my job is to educate.” A grand jury is not contentious. Witnesses are almost never cross-examined, and normally there’s no time, anyway. A typical grand jury in Cuyahoga County churns through 50 cases a day, mostly on little more than the word of a police officer. Noble expected to present his ﬁndings, answer a question or two, and be done.
Noble was retrieved by assistant prosecutor James Gutierrez and led to the grand-jury room, where 14 jurors sat in comfortable chairs around tables arranged in a U. Gutierrez took a seat in the center. Matt Meyer sat on Noble’s right. Noble was sworn in. Then, he says, “it devolved pretty quickly. It was an attack from the minute I walked into the room.” Noble says Gutierrez and Meyer tag-teamed him with questions, talking over each other and him. Early on, one of them declared more than asked, “You’re getting paid to be here, right?”
“Hey, wait, your experts are getting paid, too,” Noble said.
“You don’t know that.”
He says he was asked if it “would be in the family’s best interest if there was an indictment.” He was reminded, as if he were a simpleton, that the grand jury had to be exceedingly conscientious. “Justice is about proving that some are not guilty,” Meyer said. “These officers have rights, too.”
Well, yes, but it’s not the prosecutors’ job to prove that to a grand jury. “I’ve never had to ﬁght so hard to defend myself in the midst of a presentation,” Noble told me. “And I’ve deﬁnitely never seen two prosecutors play defense attorney so well.”
The hostility toward Noble, he realized, was part of a piece, reducing him to a character—hired gun for vengeful family and greedy lawyers trying to ruin brave cops—in a story that had already been laid out for the grand jurors. Tamir, as would later happen with Clark, repeatedly was referred to as an active shooter. Sandy Hook and San Bernardino (which had happened ﬁve days earlier) were both invoked. Video was projected of Tamir playing with the pellet gun earlier in the day, juxtaposed with video of kids playing basketball inside the rec center. For Loehmann and Garmback, only what they knew in a single blink of time was relevant. But for the dead kid, his entire day was fair game, as was what other people were doing inside a nearby building.
It was not difficult to ﬁgure out the prosecution’s theory of the case, which was really a defense theory. Near the end of Noble’s testimony, one of the grand jurors, a white lady he guessed was in her late 50s, had a question. “You’re from California, and maybe they do things differently out there,” she began. “But I’m a mom, and I would have wanted the police to protect my kid if he was playing in the rec center that day. He could have gone in there and killed all those people playing basketball.”
The woman was very sincere. “She was not being mean-spirited at all,” Noble said. “What I got out of that was the emotional level they’d been brought to.”
That Tamir could not possibly have killed anyone seemed beside the point.
Loehmann and Garmback were not required to testify or answer any questions from prosecutors. No target of a grand jury can be forced to do so. Even if he was ordered to appear, he could still invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at any time. As a practical matter, then, a prosecutor won’t invite a grand-jury target to appear. Why allow him to make a self-serving statement if the prosecutor can’t cross-examine, can’t poke holes in his story, can’t point out contradictions and inconsistencies, can’t pick at his credibility? How could the grand jurors realistically judge the veracity of those statements? On the other hand, a target has no real incentive to appear, either: Why risk saying something stupid that can be used against him later?
But at the beginning of December, both Loehmann and Garmback agreed to testify—sort of. Each man brought with him a written statement dated November 30, 2015, more than a year after Tamir was shot dead. Each officer read his statement to the grand jury.
Garmback’s was self-serving, Loehmann’s was self-aggrandizing, and both raised serious questions. For instance, both said they did not see Tamir seated at the picnic table until they were at least even with the swing set—that is, until they were a few yards away from the supposedly armed suspect they’d been sent to investigate. Were they always so lax in their visual surveillance? Both also agreed Garmback said, “Watch him, he’s going to run,” and that they were afraid Tamir was going to run toward the rec center. What, exactly, made them think Tamir would run? And if they believed that, why did Garmback approach from an angle that would almost force Tamir to bolt in that direction? Why not position the cruiser between Tamir and the rec center? Why stop next to him at all, instead of driving away from what might be a mortal threat?
Loehmann, meanwhile, testiﬁed that in his few months on the job, he’d already been “involved in many active-shooter situations.” Really? How loosely does Loehmann deﬁne “active-shooter situation”? Do shots actually need to be ﬁred? By the common deﬁnition, the last active shooter in Cuyahoga County was a man who shot his wife and daughters in a Cracker Barrel in 2012.
Loehmann said he and Garmback repeatedly yelled “Show me your hands” as they approached Tamir. (Garmback acknowledged the windows were up, which would have made shouting orders pointless.) “As car is slid [sic], I started to open the door and yelled continuously ‘show me your hands’ as loud as I could,” he said. “The suspect lifted his shirt reached [sic] down into his waistband. We continued to yell ‘show me your hands.’ I was focused on the suspect. Even when he was reaching into his waistband, I didn’t ﬁre. I still was yelling the command ‘show me your hands.’ ”
Loehmann said he’d been trained to leap out of the car “because ‘the cruiser is a coffin.’ ” He said he tried to get to the back of the cruiser. He said he and Garmback “were still yelling ‘show me your hands.’ With his hands pulling the gun out and his elbow coming up, I knew it was a gun and it was coming out. I saw the weapon in his hands coming out of his waistband and the threat to my partner and myself was real and active.”
That’s when he ﬁred twice.
The most obvious of the many questions Loehmann’s testimony raised was: How does that version square with a video showing that Loehmann pulled the trigger almost immediately after opening the car door? How fast can he yell “Show me your hands,” and how much time will he give a suspect to comply?
There may be plausible, even credible, answers to those questions. But none of them were asked. Instead, after reading his statement, each officer invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
That could not possibly have been unexpected.
Thanksgiving Weekend 2015, Earl Ward was told by Meyer that McGinty’s office had hired a video expert to enhance and analyze footage from cameras around Cudell park, and that his report was going to be released—once again, the Saturday of a holiday weekend. But there was nothing new in the analysis, Meyer said, nothing of any consequence revealed in the enhancements.
That appeared to be true. The two videos weren’t so much enhanced as synced and broken down into stills. The images were still grainy. They did not show Tamir pointing anything at the police, or even getting anything out of his trousers. But to McGinty’s expert, who specializes in the software used to record video and in teasing out information hidden in the small variances between pixels, they clearly showed Tamir reaching into his waistband an instant before Loehmann shot him.
To Jesse Wobrock, an expert in biomechanics hired by Abady’s ﬁrm, they showed that Tamir had his hands in his pockets when Loehmann ﬁred, and that the upward movement of the boy’s arms was a reaction to getting hit with a bullet, not a prelude to it.
To a layman, they are Rorschach blots. Stare at a still image long enough—as opposed to watching it ﬂash past in a half a second as part of a moving series—and the brain can be convinced either way. But McGinty’s version requires believing that a 12-year-old child rushed by two police officers reﬂexively reached for his toy gun. Wobrock’s version requires only accepting that a body will jerk when it gets shot.
And there was, to Wobrock, one new thing in the enhancement. When others had reviewed the raw video, they’d calculated that 1.7 seconds elapsed between Loehmann getting out of the cruiser and ﬁring. After seeing the individual images, Wobrock cut that to less than one second.
Wobrock appeared before the grand jury after Abady publicly complained about the way Noble and Clark had been treated. “My experience was probably more gentle than the others’,” Wobrock says. “But they were acting in a way like they were defense attorneys for the cops. Their line of questioning had to do with attacking me professionally.”
Meyer asked the questions. He showed images from the shooting, and videos that demonstrated that a person can pull a gun and shoot in less than half a second. He controlled those with a remote he’d stuck in his pants. “Today I have a remote in my waistband,” he joked with the grand jurors, “and not a gun.”
Mostly, Wobrock says, he was asked about his background in deciphering video code. He does not have any. Wobrock is an expert in forensic biomechanical engineering and kinematic analysis—how the body moves and reacts, particularly when it is being shot, beaten, or otherwise traumatized. “But if you have two eyes,” he says, “you can see what was going on in the video.”
Meyer brought up the civil suit pending in federal court—“Basically,” Wobrock says, “that the mom was looking for money out of this thing”—which cast Wobrock as just another hired gun for the money-grubbers. Who could trust his opinion, this academic who didn’t understand video-compression coding?
On the Monday after Christmas, McGinty announced that the grand jury had declined to indict either officer and that he had recommended no charges be brought.
The key evidence, both McGinty and Meyer said, was the enhanced video.
“You could actually see him draw his gun on this ﬁlm,” McGinty said.
Meyer, meanwhile, focused on a gray dot on the gazebo ﬂoor after Tamir had collapsed. That was the gun, he said. “For it to have fallen on the ground, it would have had to have been in Tamir’s hand,” he said. “Which means he would have had to have pulled that gun out.”
Those are both extremely debatable assertions. And neither, curiously, was mentioned when Meyer contacted Earl Ward a month earlier. Back then, there was nothing of any signiﬁcance at all in that enhanced video.
Samaria Rice was the last witness to appear before the grand jury. She waited in the hallway of the courthouse while her daughter answered questions. Samaria didn’t want to tell me what her daughter was asked or how she answered, only that she was shaking when she came out. Her daughter had been there that day. Look at the video: Garmback and Loehmann watching a boy bleed to death, and she enters from the left. There’s no sound, but she’s screaming. “They killed my baby brother,” she shrieks. Garmback grabs her, takes her to the ground, handcuffs her, puts her in the back of the cruiser that’s next to her dying brother.
Samaria was still at home then. She was putting groceries away when two kids from the neighborhood banged on her door. “The police just shot your boy in the stomach,” they told her. She ran to the park, and the police told her she could stay with her daughter or go to the hospital with her son.
What could she do? She rode in the passenger seat of the ambulance.
The last time she saw Tamir alive, he had tubes stuck in his arms and his tongue lolled out of his mouth. And then he was dead. He was wrapped up like a tamale, she remembers, only his face showing, and she wailed and she sobbed and she tried to kiss him good-bye, but a police officer held her back. Her boy’s body was evidence and couldn’t be contaminated.
She sat before the grand jurors as a character in a script already written: Tamir had been acting all gangsta that day, Tamir had pulled a gun on the cops, Tamir could have killed everyone in the rec center. Any mom would have wanted the police to protect the children playing in the rec center and the park. Three experts said the police had no choice, said killing Tamir was a reasonable thing to do.
And Samaria? She was suing the city for wrongful death. Samaria wanted money. Samaria had a record: The day the police killed her son, she was on probation for selling weed. It didn’t matter that Samaria refused to ever live in the projects, that she’d moved to a white suburb so her kids could go to better schools and only moved back so her kids wouldn’t be the only black ones in class. It didn’t matter that she worried so much about her youngest two that she’d only recently let them off the porch to play.
The prosecutor asked her if she knew Tamir had a toy gun that day.
He asked her where he got that toy.
“The look he had on his face, it was almost like they were trying to blame me,” she said. “I’m saying in my head, Why are they talking to me like that? They were talking to me like I was a bad mother, like I gave him that BB gun.”
One of the grand jurors asked her what Tamir had been like. It was not an insincere question. But what does a mother say about the boy the police thought needed shooting? That he liked to draw and paint and make pottery at the rec center? That he helped his mother sweep and mop? That he liked the ice cream and French fries at McDonald’s and Cool Ranch Doritos and cereal, even if Samaria wouldn’t buy him the sugary ones?
Or that he wasn’t allowed to play with toy guns? Not even that cheap bright plastic one at the Dollar General?
What does any of it matter now?
Samaria wasn’t surprised that Garmback and Loehmann weren’t indicted. A prosecutor doesn’t spend a year laying the groundwork only to screw it up at the end. Maybe it wouldn’t sting as badly if McGinty had been forthright about it, if he’d made a decision and owned up to it and explained it, instead of dribbling out some parts and burying the rest in legal secrecy and ducking behind anonymous citizens, muddying rather than clarifying. But maybe not. No one was indicted, and no one would be.
Samaria knew the settlement was coming, and she wished it wouldn’t be public, thought maybe she should move away, to Charlotte or Lexington, another city where people won’t bother her at the gas station, at the store, on the street. People—strangers, a Cleveland police dispatcher—want to take selﬁes with her. “Once they recognize my face, it’s ‘Oh, let me give you a hug,’ ” she says. “Throwing themselves on my body, getting all in my personal space.”
They mean well. But still. Sometimes they say, “Oh, you’re that boy’s mom.”
Sometimes they say, “Oh, you’re Rice’s mom.” And sometimes, because enough time has passed and memories have gotten foggy and all the stories begin to blur together, people stop and stare and try to remember. “Oh,” they’ll say, certain but not really, “you’re Trayvon Martin’s mom.”