• Liz Venerable

"Justifiable Homicide" and the Unjust System

Photo courtesy of CNN

Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice and now Jeremy Mardis all have two things in common: they all died before turning 13-years-old and they all were shot and killed by law enforcement. In the last five years, police-involved-shootings (PIS) have created national outrage and are a hot topic for media outlets. According to The Guardian, 14 out of the 804 PIS this year included people under the age of 18. Many of these shootings hold no accountability on the part of law enforcement because they are considered “justifiable homicides.” A justifiable homicide is when someone objectively proves, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the victim intended to commit violence, therefore making the killing of the victim reasonable.

Aiyana Jones, photo courtesy of redalertlive.com

Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was from the east side of Detroit, Michigan. She was shot and killed during a raid conducted by the Detroit Police Department's Special Response Team on May 16, 2010. Officer Joseph Weekley was charged in connection with Jones' death. Weekley said he pulled the trigger during a struggle with the Aiyana's grandmother, but Mertilla Jones denied interfering with the gun and another officer testified there was no struggle over the weapon. Additionally, court documents stated that Mertilla Jones had no gunpowder residue on her hand or clothes. Despite evidenced showing Weekley at fault for the death of Aiyana, he was ultimately cleared of all charges on January 28, 2015.

Cameron Tillman, photo courtesy of Blogspot.com

Multiple people have also been killed as the result of police officers mistakenly thinking that the children are armed. At the young age of 14, Cameron Tillman, from Terrebonne, Louisiana, died on September 21, 2014. A sheriff’s deputy shot him dead on the scene. The officer was not named, but was identified as an African-American veteran police officer. His brother, who was also there, said Tillman was shot opening the door and was unarmed. However, the what the police officer suspected to be a deadly weapon turned out to be only a BB gun.

Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, of Cleveland, Ohio, died on November 23, 2014 after being shot while playing in a park. A police officer shot Tamir after the young boy was waving a BB gun around. Tamir’s death sparked national outrage, especially from the African-American community due to the fact that Tamir was shot within two seconds of the police arriving on the scene. When officers Loehmann and Garmback arrived at the scene, they said Tamir reached for his toy and, though he did not point it at them, a first-year police officer (Loehmann) fired two shots at Rice from a short distance.

Tamir Rice, photo courtesy of the New York Times

During a press conference, Cleveland, Ohio City Councilman Jeffrey Johnson stated, “There is something fundamentally broken in our system when a young man can have a legal BB gun and by the end of that day be killed by a Cleveland police officer.” Officer Loehmann, who shot Tamir, resigned after the incident. No charges were brought to officers Loehmann or Garmback because outside experts who handle the investigation concluded that the shooting of Tamir Rice was “reasonable under the circumstances.”

Rice's family filed a wrongful-death suit against officers Loehmann and Garmback and the City of Cleveland in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. On April 25, 2016, the lawsuit was settled, with the City of Cleveland agreeing to pay Tamir Rice's family six million dollars.

Jeremy Mardis, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

On November 3, 2015, two City Marshals in Marksville, Louisiana shot Jeremy Mardis after they fired on a car they had been pursuing, killing 6-year-old Jeremy and wounding his father. Police body-cam footage of the shooting was released on Wednesday, September 28, 2016. Officers Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. were arrested on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder as a result of the incident. Bond was set at one million dollars for both officers. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the United States Attorney will handle the investigation.

It is yet to be seen if officers Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse will be sentenced for killing Jeremy Mardis. They can resign like officer Loehmann, who killed Tamir Rice, or never face any charges despite evidence showing that they were guilty, like officer Weekley who killed Aiyana Jones. Justifiable homicide is necessary because everyday people in law enforcement risk their lives to save others. Yet, we find ourselves asking the question, "really, how threatening is a 12 year-old child to a trained police officer?" Justifiable homicide is supposed to support law enforcement, not protect law enforcement in life threatening situations.

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