On New Year's Eve, Annapolis, Md., police officer Jason Shreves responded to a call about a man wearing a ski mask and a hoodie who was armed with a handgun and a rifle. The man, it turned out, was a 13-year-old boy, and the AR-15 and pistol were both airsoft guns. Somehow, the boy survived.
It is a sad state of affairs that a story about a police officer confronting a child armed with toys and not shooting him into oblivion should be notable at all, but here we are. The Baltimore Sun's Susan Reimer interviewed Shreves to find out why his encounter may have gone differently from the one that ended in the death of Tamir Rice.
Some differences that bear mentioning: Rice was black; the unnamed boy in Shreves' encounter was white, and was strolling through a relatively tony neighborhood. Shreves, who is also white, is a 10-year veteran of the Annapolis police force; the white Cleveland cop who killed Rice had about a year of total police experience and was found unfit for duty by a previous department in 2012.
With all that in mind, here is Shreves' account:
He turned a corner and saw someone dressed all in black and camouflage, carrying what looked like an AR-15 assault rife. He was wearing a ski mask and a holster with what looked like a hand gun in it.
"Drop the gun and get on the ground," he shouted. He'd drawn his service weapon, a .40-caliber semi-automatic.
The suspect obeyed and was handcuffed.
But when the police officer took off the ski mask, he saw the frightened face of a 13-year-old boy. The teen had apparently been strutting around the neighborhood with all his Christmas stuff, an Airsoft rifle and an Airsoft pistol, both of which shoot plastic pellets.
Why didn't the Annapolis police officer shoot? That's asking about all the decisions he made in fractions of seconds.
"He didn't turn toward me. He didn't come toward me. He didn't raise the gun or point it at me. When I told him to drop the gun and get on the ground, he complied immediately," said Officer Shreves.
"I didn't feel like he was a threat to me or others."
But afterward, he had to catch his breath.
"Every time you get something like this, nothing is the same. What would have caused me to take action? I was questioning myself.
"That ski mask comes off and I see this baby face."
It's possible that race did not play a factor in the incident; as Reimer notes, the teen's skin was likely mostly obscured if he was wearing a hoodie and mask. Still, the white kid in the wealthy quasi-suburban area survived; the black kid in Cleveland died.
Shreves told Reimer he is "confident" he would have handled the situation similarly in any other neighborhood, "Because I told him to drop the gun and get on the ground, and he complied." Rice, who was shot just two seconds after police arrived to the park where he was playing, probably didn't have the chance to.