CLEVELAND -- Part of growing up black in Cleveland is learning to fear the police: Don't raise your voice. Don't make sudden movements. Don't give them a reason to shoot you. Officers don't care about black people, residents said, and that's why they shot Tamir Rice.
The 12-year-old boy died Sunday from gunshot wounds after a Cleveland police officer fired at him in an Ohio park as he reached for a firearm -- one the officers didn't realize was just a BB gun with its orange cap off. The original 911 caller told dispatch the weapon was "probably fake," but it wasn't clear if the officers knew that.
The incident was under investigation Monday as Cleveland grieved and raged against police for causing Tamir's death. Residents said the city is racially and economically segregated, and many blame police for contentious race relations. The officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave, but they may be part of a bigger problem.
For the past year, the U.S. Department of Justice has been examining the Cleveland Division of Police in response to allegations of excessive force. Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio said she hopes Saturday's shooting is included. "With the long-awaited report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) into the use of deadly force, racial discrimination and police pursuits by the Cleveland Division of Police expected soon, I urge DOJ to review this incident and continue monitoring the Police Department," she said in a statement.
The officer who shot Tamir is distraught over what happened, Police Chief Calvin Williams said at a news conference Monday. "Our officers, at times, are required to make critical decisions in a split second," Williams said. "Unfortunately, this was one of those times."
Cleveland's population is about 53 percent black, according to Census data. About 61 percent of children under age 18 are black, and about half of all children live in households subsisting below the poverty level. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District covers an especially low-income area. All of its roughly 39,000 students are economically disadvantaged, and 100 percent of them recieve free or reduced-price lunch, according to the district's website.
Black residents claim Cleveland police are trigger-happy when it comes to black people. Children are taught to be careful around law enforcement, or risk being shot. "They're afraid of black people -- even when they're children," business owner Bryan McIntosh said.
Some see a disconnect between the city's administration and the people it serves. About 27 percent of the Cleveland police department's officers are black, Cleveland.com reported. Police use fear to justify crimes like Tamir's death, said mental health worker Michelle Sullivan. "That boy shouldn't be dead and wouldn't be if he was white," she said.
Williams and other city officials offered their condolences to the Rice family at the news conference. "A tragedy like this affects our entire community," Williams said. "There is no time a Cleveland police officer wants to go out and shoot a kid."