Another child killed by Ohio cops

September 19, 2016

Tim Adams and Haley Swenson report on the murder of 13-year-old Tyre King by police in Columbus--and the calls for justice from Tyre's family and its supporters.

POLICE IN Ohio set another deadly record on September 14 when cops in the capital of Columbus shot and killed 13-year-old Tyre King--one of the youngest people killed by police anywhere in the U.S. since the Cleveland cops murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice nearly two years ago.

King was an eighth grader at Linden-McKinley STEM High School and a member of the Columbus Day Stars football team. He will be remembered by his family as a loving son. "My eyes are still swollen and my head still hurts," said a tearful Marshay Caldwell, King's 13-year old sister, at a vigil of some 150 people on Thursday near the site of the shooting. "He's really not coming back. He didn't deserve to die."

Meanwhile, the Columbus Police Department (CPD) returned to the same racist tactics of victim-blaming that Cleveland police used against Tamir Rice and his family.

According to police, around 7 p.m., officers responded to a complaint of an armed robbery on the Near East Side, Columbus' poor and historically Black neighborhood. When officers saw a group of three Black children a block away from the robbery, the cops decided the young teens "fit the description" given of the person who committed the armed robbery and approached them.

Mourners demand justice for Tyre King at a vigil in Columbus, Ohio
Mourners demand justice for Tyre King at a vigil in Columbus, Ohio

Two of the kids ran away. An officer followed Tyre into an alley, where, according to police, Tyre pulled out a BB gun from his waistband. That's when officer Bryan Mason--a 9-year veteran of the force who shot and killed an armed suspect in 2012--opened fire on the 13-year-old.

The police department's Twitter account quickly became a tool for casting King as a violent criminal who died while evading arrest for the crime, announcing Wednesday night, "Armed robbery suspect fatally shot after pulling gun while police tried to make arrest." In a press release, the CPD announced, "Suspect killed after armed robbery."

The next day, the CPD continued to refer to King as a "suspect" and not a victim--even though it hadn't released any evidence to suggest why King and his friends were considered suspects in the robbery in the first place, other than being Black males in the same neighborhood where a robbery had taken place.

On Saturday, police arrested 19-year-old Demetrius Braxton as a suspect in the robbery they claim happened right before they shot King. Police claim Braxton and possibly other assailants threatened a passerby on the street with a weapon and took $10 from them. It was unclear according to a police statement about the arrest whether King was still a "suspect"--or whether Braxton's alleged part in the robbery was unrelated to King.

What you can do

Join a protest to demand justice for Tyre King September 19 at noon at the Columbus City Hall.

ACCORDING TO the Columbus police, the act of pulling out a gun alone, even a toy one, justifies the shooting of a 13-year-old.

This ignores the fact that police across the country regularly arrest white aggressors armed with real guns without resorting to deadly violence.

Last year, the Columbus Free Press reported that Columbus has the second-highest per-capita rate of police shootings among major cities, coming in behind only Las Vegas.

King was the third Black person to be killed by Columbus police this summer alone, after the deaths of 25-year-old Kawme Patrick on June 30 and 23-year-old Henry Green V on June 6.

A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the Columbus Police Department concluded in 1998 that its officers "are engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, making false arrests and lodging false charges, and conducting improper searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution." These findings led the DOJ to file a suit against the city that then-Mayor Michael Coleman vowed to fight. The DOJ dropped the suit in 2002.

Five days after the shooting of King, police still had not released any detailed information about the number of shots fired or the point of entry of the shots on King's body, information that might corroborate or contradict the department's description of events.

Columbus police are only gradually being equipped with body cameras over the course of this year, and Bryan Mason wasn't wearing one at the time of the shooting.

MARYAM ABIDI pointed out the heartbreaking similarities between King's and Rice's murders at a vigil for King held Thursday night at Ohio State University (OSU), where some 100 students, faculty and community members gathered.

The OSU Coalition for Black Liberation, which called for the vigil, formed on the one-year anniversary of Tamir Rice's death to continue the call for justice. Now, another Black child is dead in Ohio, and police are using King's possession of a toy gun to blame him for his own death.

The news of King's death brought some Columbus community members out to protest police violence for the first time. Jakini Ingram learned about the shooting on social media.

"My outrage came when I was looking at comments that were all about parenting skills--things like 'He shouldn't have had a gun,' 'He killed himself,' 'He caused his own death,'" Ingram said. "That made me enraged. He's a 13-year-old. That's a child. He had a whole future ahead of him."

Black Lives Matter activist Anthony Edgecombe spoke about the case of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, who police claimed attacked an officer and stole his weapon--before video from an eyewitness showed the officer shooting Scott in the back as he fled, then dropping a police Taser next to his body. "Stop buying what these police are telling you," Edgecombe said.

In a city where police lie and falsify information regularly--and one so close to the places where Rice and John Crawford III were shot for holding toy guns that weren't pointed at anyone--there are many reasons to doubt the CPD's story.

At a press conference the morning after the shooting, Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs called for "calm" pending an investigation. It also became clear that the Columbus Democratic Party establishment wasn't going to wait for a full investigation before siding with police and accepting as fact the police version of events.

Columbus' current Mayor Andrew Ginther said his "thoughts and prayers" were with the King family, but he also blamed King and not the police for the shooting, arguing that it was "unacceptable" for him to be carrying a "replica firearm." Ginther also argued that Columbus was "the safest big city in America," prompting activist Tammy Fournier-Alsaada of the People's Justice Project to ask, "Safe for whom?"

After a series of community vigils and a tense, emotional "community conversation" with police at a church near the shooting over the weekend, a protest to demand justice for Tyre was set for September 19 at Columbus City Hall.

Though Columbus Democrats give lip service to supporting better "community-police relations," Ginther and the City Council have consistently blocked even modest efforts, such as the creation of a Civilian Review Board, to address police violence.

The fact that they have dedicated one-third of the city budget to police, while nearly 18 percent of Columbus residents live below the poverty line, makes their actual priorities clear.

As Justice Harley, an organizer of the OSU Coalition for Black Liberation, pointed out at a vigil, "We know that the system will not hold them accountable, will not bring us justice. It is only up to us as a community. We have to start, because we cannot afford any more deaths."

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