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Officer Fatally Shoots Cleveland Boy Brandishing Fake Gun

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Officer Fatally Shoots Cleveland Boy Brandishing Fake Gun

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Officer Fatally Shoots Cleveland Boy Brandishing Fake Gun

Officer Fatally Shoots Cleveland Boy Brandishing Fake Gun

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A Cleveland police officer shot and killed a 12-year-old boy who had an air pistol. It's not the first such death in the city in recent years, and it sparked a number of peaceful protests.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Last night Ferguson, Missouri, erupted into its worst rioting since the summer. Buildings were burned, stores looted and automatic gunfire erupted throughout the night.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All of this was angry reaction to the grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death last August of a young, black man named Michael Brown. All this violence despite a late-night, televised plea for calm from President Obama.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It's an understandable reaction. But I join Michael's parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.

MONTAGNE: We will continue following this story throughout the show. But let's turn now to Cleveland, where there were peaceful protests yesterday over the police shooting at a playground that left an adolescent, African-American boy dead. As Nick Castele of member station WCPN reports, authorities are promising an investigation.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: On Saturday afternoon, 12-year-old Tamir Rice went with some friends to a park on Cleveland's West Side. He was carrying an air pistol that fires plastic pellets. Soon after, someone at the park called 911, reporting a juvenile with what seemed to be a pistol, adding he thought the gun was probably fake. Police say responding officers told Rice to raise his hands, but that he instead reached toward the air gun tucked into his waistband. One officer standing about 10 feet away shot twice, hitting Rice in the abdomen. He later died at a hospital. In a news conference yesterday, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams offered his condolences to the family.

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CALVIN WILLIAMS: I have nieces and nephews around the same age as this young man. And I'm sure I know that my family would also be heartbroken.

CASTELE: Williams declined to name the officer who shot Rice, but says he's broken up over it.

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WILLIAMS: There is no time that a Cleveland police officer wants to go out and shoot a kid, period. And that's the way that officer feels.

CASTELE: Police say they've shown a family representative a surveillance video that depicts what happened in the park on Saturday. It's not the first death involving police to touch a nerve in Cleveland. A woman with mental illness died earlier this year as police were taking her into custody. And two years ago, an extended car chase ended with multiple officers firing more than 100 shots, killing the driver and the passenger.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hands up.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Don't shoot.

CASTELE: Last night, protesters marched peacefully through the neighborhood where Tamir Rice lived. As they passed neighbor Jessica Vicens, she waved in support. Vicens says she doesn't think kids should have realistic toy guns. But she's quick to add that she doesn't think that justifies the police response.

JESSICA VICENS: He could've handled that in a whole other way. They're trained to do this. They're not trained to right away kill. You could've handled it in a whole other way, especially when a young man did nothing.

CASTELE: At the park where Rice was killed, about 100 protesters collected money to help his family pay for their son's funeral. Later, they encircled the family and prayed for them. Nicole Jamison came to this rally with her 10-year-old son. She says, on one hand, she understands that officers were trying to protect themselves.

NICOLE JAMISON: But they also could've handled the situation differently. I don't think the outcome had to be death. I don't think he had to die. He's 12 years old.

CASTELE: The head of Cleveland's police union says the officers involved didn't know that the gun Rice was holding was fake. At question will be whether that information was relayed to the officers from the 911 call. After a 90-day investigation, police will turn the case over to the county prosecutor who says he'll present it to a grand jury that will decide whether to charge the officer with a crime. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.

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