Justin Amash on Tamir Rice Outcome: Cops Don't Deserve Extra Leniency

Why do the police get away with crimes ordinary citizens would go to jail for?


Tamir Rice
Tamir Rice

The grand jury's decision not to charge either of the two police officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park last year is as frustrating as it was predetermined.

Of course authorities and adjudicators thought the killing was justified—they are instructed to ignore the victim's perspective, and only consider whether inaction could have conceivably put the officers' lives at risk, in the imaginations of the officers. That's the legal standard, so it's hardly a surprise it was obeyed.

But not everyone is thrilled with a standard that tilts the scales of justice so decisively in the cops' favor nearly every single time. Libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Justin Amash had this to say about the Tamir Rice decision on Twitter:

That last point is something I also raised on Twitter yesterday. In a sane world, one might expect the cops to receive less leniency than ordinary citizens in cases where they kill a harmless, unarmed boy. After all, they are trained to successfully navigate tense situations: it's literally their job to go to great lengths to keep people alive. We might even expect the police—again, the people we pay to take on some degree of risk—to use a different calculus than the average person when weighing threats to their own lives against threats to others.

As Jamelle Bouie writes at Slate:

Part of policing is risk. Not just the inevitable risk of the unknown, but voluntary risk. We ask police to "serve and protect" the broad public, which—at times—means accepting risk when necessary to defuse dangerous situations and protect lives, innocent or otherwise. It's why we give them weapons and the authority to use them; why we compensate them with decent salaries and generous pensions; why we hold them in high esteem and why we give them wide berth in procedure and practice.

What we see with Tamir Rice—and what we've seen in shootings across the country—is what happens when the officer's safety supercedes the obligation to accept risk. If "going home" is what matters—and risk is unacceptable—then the instant use of lethal force makes sense. It's the only thing that guarantees complete safety from harm.

It's also antithetical to the call to "serve and protect." But it's the new norm.

Indeed. And as long as the norm prevails, there will be more Tamir Rices—and more grieving mothers deprived of justice. The lives of the agents of the state matter infinitely more than the lives of regular people.