ADVOCACY

Posted in Rants on March 8th, 2015 by Ed

Last week the City of Cleveland announced that its official position is that 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by city police while holding a toy gun in a park, caused his own death through negligence by "failing to avoid injury." Since most of my friends feel the same way about law enforcement and institutionalized racism as I do, I've seen quite a bit of outrage over this response to lawsuits from the Rice family. There are some good reasons for it.

Rice was shot dead by a new Cleveland cop who didn't even wait for the car to stop before firing. It turned out that he had also been fired from a previous job on the suburban Independence, OH police force after some disturbing behavior on a firing range. Given how much a police officer has to do to get fired in this country, we might want to start asking why anyone would hire someone terminated previously for erratic behavior or poor performance (see also: Darren Wilson). But that's another post.

To their credit, the Cuyahoga County sheriff was brought in to do the investigation rather than allowing the Cleveland PD to do an internal whitewashing. And they appear to have done a creditable job. Notably they did not tell either officer involved that there was a video of the incident before taking their statements. Both officers reported that Rice was waving his fake gun around at a large group of people; on the video Rice is alone. So essentially the two CPD officers have already proven themselves to be liars, which kind of works against the city when it defends itself against the lawsuits.

Here is the thing about the outrage, though: it is premature at this point. The City has attorneys representing it and this is what lawyers get paid to do. They are an advocate for their client / employer, even when they are quite obviously balls guilty (legal term). People end up in courtrooms every day watching videos of themselves committing crimes and counting on a lawyer to defend them anyway. True, the city's lawyers probably could have come up with a better defense than "the kid we shot failed to avoid getting shot." Then again, if they were great lawyers I doubt they'd be working for the City of Cleveland.

Regardless of their legal strategy, the point is that the outrage is better reserved for the possibility that a judge and jury might actually buy that horseshit. The legal system is supposed to consider such arguments, use the judgment of all those involved to conclude something along the lines of "Well that's quite ridiculous," and reject them. Of course when the sacred word of the police is involved, juries composed of authoritarian-follower types tend to be, shall we say, less than skeptical.

I'm not saying that the justice system isn't going to screw this kid and his family six ways from Sunday while exonerating the guy that killed him. I am, however, certain that it hasn't happened yet and we might as well reserve our emotional energy for when it inevitably does. Right now all we have is a city that is flat broke (and thus probably has a strong incentive to avoid settling at any cost) mounting the best legal defense it could concoct, which in this case is not a very good one.