Cleveland city officials announced Monday they would give $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice, whose fatal shooting by police sparked national protests in 2014, in a settlement that would allow City Hall to avoid a wrongful-death lawsuit in court. Rice, 12, was playing with a toy gun in a public park when he was shot by police responding to reports of an armed man acting "gangster."
The payout is the latest seven-figure settlement paid to the families of African-Americans who were killed by police officers. The settlements have allowed local governments to avoid a federal civil rights trials and the possibility of an even larger judgments as the social justice movement Black Lives Matter has increasingly called on elected officials to hold police departments accountable for using brutal force.
In many of the cases, city officials apparently have determined that the loss of life was worth about $6 million, give or a take a few hundred thousand dollars. Chicago aldermen approved this month a $4.95 million settlement to the family of Philip Coleman, who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shocked repeatedly with a Taser while in police custody. In Baltimore, city officials awarded $6.4 million to the family of Freddie Gray, who was critically injured after his April 2015 arrest and died one week later. In New York, city officials are expected to give $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was placed in a fatal choke hold by an officer. In South Carolina, the city of North Charleston reached a $6.5 million settlement last year with the family of Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by a white police officer after fleeing a traffic stop on foot in April 2015.
Some critics of the Black Lives Matter movement's campaign for law enforcement reform have called the settlements unnecessary. In Baltimore, Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan urged government officials to reject the settlement with Gray's family. Six police officers were charged in connection with Gray's death.
“To suggest that there is any reason to settle prior to the adjudication of the pending criminal cases is obscene,” Ryan said in 2015, according to USA Today.
Ryan has also said police officers are "under siege" and afraid "of going to jail for doing their jobs properly."
In Cleveland, a probate court must still approve the agreement, which would see the city pay $3 million this year and $3 million next year to settle the lawsuit. Most of the money would be paid to Rice’s estate.
Rice's family had sought criminal charges against the rookie officer who opened fire almost immediately after encountering the 12-year-old Nov. 22, 2014. A Cuyahoga County grand jury decided last year not to indict the officer, Timothy Loehmann.
“In a situation like this, there’s no such thing as closure or justice,” the family's lawyers, Jonathan S. Abady and Earl S. Ward, said in a statement provided to the New York Times. “Nothing will bring Tamir back. His unnecessary and premature death leaves a gaping hole for those who knew and loved him that can never be filled.”
Nearly 1,000 people were killed by police officers in the United States last year, more than double the annual average reported by the FBI in recent years, the Washington Post reported.