CLEVELAND – In an unprecedented action, the Tamir Rice Justice Committee and allied groups delivered petitions with nearly 60,000 signatures to the office of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty on July 23, demanding that he charge the Cleveland police officers responsible for the shooting death of the 12-year-old black child last November.
Before delivering the petitions, approximately 150 supporters marched several blocks from a park next to Cleveland City Hall with signs and banners demanding “Justice for Tamir” and chanting, “What do want – justice! When do we want it – now!”
“We’re here eight months later and there’s still no justice,” LaTonya Goldsby, Tamir’s cousin and the committee’s coordinator, told a rally and press conference on the steps of the Cleveland Justice Center before entering the building with a delegation to deliver the box of petitions.
Standing with Eugene Rice, Tamir’s grandfather, Goldsby said the family was suffering greatly because of her cousin’s death and the fact that no action has been taken to prosecute the police involved.
The delegation to McGinty’s office also included Mark Milko, a member of the Executive Committee of the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor and president of Workers United Local 10. Milko told the rally that organized labor is mobilizing in response to the repeated incidents of deadly force used by white police against unarmed African Americans, and is urging unions to get active in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“These are cases involving members of police unions and victims who are members of union families,” Milko said, adding that national AFL-CIO leaders plan to hold meetings in Cleveland in the near future on the issue of racial and economic justice.
Community frustration over inaction in the Tamir Rice case increased last month when Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine ruled that there was probable cause to charge the officers with murder, manslaughter and other crimes, but declined to issue arrest warrants and, instead, referred the matter to McGinty. McGinty already had the report of the incident issued by the county sheriff, after a prolonged investigation. McGinty said he would conduct his own additional investigation, which, he said, could take months, before turning the matter over to a grand jury.
Joe Frolik, a spokesman for McGinty, who received the petitions, said the prosecutor was aware the case is “important to many people in the community,” and reiterated that the investigation is ongoing and the case would be presented to the grand jury.
Accompanying the petitions was a letter from the committee together with the names of
110 well known public officials, clergy, labor leaders, cultural figures, community activists and business people sponsoring the effort.
Angela Woodson, one of the sponsors as well as a co-convenor of the committee, read the letter at the rally. It called the shooting “a premeditated, summary execution” and said, “The principle must be firmly established that police who use deadly force when other options are available must defend their actions in court. Otherwise police will have … a power characteristic of police states …. Our community deserves its day in court. Otherwise, there is no doubt that tragedies like this will continue to happen.”
She called delivery of the petitions “historic,” saying that no county prosecutor had ever been given a petition of this magnitude.
The shooting was recorded on a park surveillance video that has been broadcast worldwide by television news and online media. it shows that the 12-year-old Tamir had been walking in the park outside Cudell Recreation Center in his neighborhood waving what turned out to be a toy gun. He sat down alone in a picnic pavilion and suddenly a police squad car drove up a few feet away. Rookie officer Timothy Loehmann, who had previously lost his job in a suburban police department on grounds of emotional instability, jumped from the vehicle, gun in hand, and less than one second later shot the child in the stomach. Neither he nor his partner, Frank Garmback, the driver, offered Tamir first aid, but instead occupied themselves with tackling Tamir’s 14-year-old sister, Tajai, who had rushed from the recreation center to reach her stricken brother. The officers handcuffed her face down in the snow and forced her into the squad car and then restrained Tamir’s mother, Samaria. Eventually an EMS ambulance arrived and took Tamir to the county hospital where he died nine hours later.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow commented Jan. 11 that the video exposed “an unconscionable level of human depravity” by the police. Blow concluded: “In the demand for justice, timorousness must be the enemy, tirelessness must be the motto and righteousness must be the compass. The world must be made to acknowledge that Tamir Rice’s life mattered.”
Woodson said she hoped McGinty would respond to the committee’s call for action within a month. “If he doesn’t,” she added, “we will take this to a higher level.”
The petition drive continues and can be accessed at change.org.
Photo: Tamir Rice, via change.org