CLEVELAND — Although it’s been more than a year since the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, his mother Samira Rice remembers all the vivid details about her youngest son. She describes him as a “typical American teen” who was involved in everything from basketball to football to soccer. She nostalgically told the People’s World that he loved video games and animals: “He did it all,” she said. “He was loving – he was a comical person. Tamir played jokes on us all the time and made us laugh. You couldn’t ask for a better child.”
The child she talked about was shot to death in this city by Timothy Loehmann, 26, a Cleveland policeman. Loehmann and his partner, 46-year-old Frank Garmback, drove up to the scene after responding to a call from a police dispatcher claiming there was someone with a gun in a public park. The person who called the 911 dispatcher mentioned that the individual was “probably a juvenile” and that the gun was also “probably fake” but that he could not be sure.
In a matter of seconds after arriving, Loehmann fired two shots into Rice. The “gun” turned out to be an Airsoft Replica designed to shoot non-lethal plastic pellets. Rice died the following day at MetroHealth Medical Center.
Samaria says that she never expected something like this to happen. “My world has turned upside down,” she said. It has been difficult for her to deal with the loss of her son in such a public manner. “People will come up to me in grocery stores and they always ask if they can hug me,” she said. “I don’t always want a hug.”
She had no involvement in politics before the incident. Now, she feels obligated to utilize her platform in a progressive way. “It’s hard for me to me to be normal. I just want my life back, I don’t need all this attention, but now that I have it I feel like I have to do something good with it,” she said. “I have to turn my anger into something positive.”
Although Tamir was gunned down over a year ago, Samaria noted that there has been minimal progress in the case. “I have no answers as to why my son is dead – none,” she said. In June a Cleveland judge found probable cause to charge both Officer Loehmann and Garmback, Loehmann’s partner. The ruling, however, was only advisory and doesn’t affect the separate grand jury investigation.
Something similar has happened in Chicago, where outrage has been sparked by the prolonged investigation into the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. McDonald was killed last year by a Chicago police officer, but it wasn’t until late November 2015 that Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered release of a dashcam video that incriminated the police, showing the juvenile was shot a total of 16 times, including after he was down on the ground, although he was walking away from the police at the time. Since the video went public, demonstrators have hit the streets demanding that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County’s State Attorney Anita Alvarez resign. Protesters successfully shut down several businesses along the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago during Black Friday.
In an eerily similar incident, Mario Woods was killed last week in San Francisco by a slew of cops who shot him 15 times. The execution-style showdown was caught on camera by a woman on a passing bus. Wood was reported to be wielding a knife, but did not seem to present an immediate danger to any of the officers. At one point it looked as though he was attempting to walk away from the group of cops that encircled him, but he was shot down by a shower of bullets.
Though these shocking incidents, and foot-dragging on investigating them, have happened frequently, Samaria Rice noted that they are often sparsely covered by news outlets. “I’ve talked to other mothers who have lost their sons, and who are still also waiting on their cases, but the media hasn’t reported on it,” she said. “I can only imagine what those families are going through.”
In spite of the delayed progress with her own case, Samaria has felt inspired by the overwhelming outpouring of public support. She credited activist organizers for the many community events that have taken place in Tamir’s memory. “At first I was surprised at all the attention,” she said. “These people didn’t even know us, but they had all this love for us. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed.”
Samaria hopes that after the case is settled she can rebuild her life. She said, “I had a different path set, I was going to school for my real estate license and getting my kids ready to move to California. I was getting tired of being out in the cold and I wanted Tamir to be able to play basketball, or soccer, or swim. Then my whole world turned upside down. I was trying to get out, I just didn’t make it out in enough time. That’s the way I see it.”
The Rice family is now challenging the county prosecutor, Tim McGinty, who released a report from experts he hired, deeming the shooting “reasonable.” Shortly thereafter McGinty also disclosed an “enhanced” video of the shooting. The video reportedly presents no official new evidence, and has left conflicting opinions about the incident. And a highly esteemed independent expert hired by the Rice family determined that shooting was, in fact, unreasonable. Although McGinty, as prosecutor, is responsible for investigating the case and recommending whether it should be brought to trial, many here are questioning whether he is capable of doing so. In an alarming statement, McGinty accused the Rice family of being “economically motivated” in their pursuit of justice for Tamir. But Samaria assured me that she will not roll over, “These people have no regard for human life,” she said. “I’m going to fight until the day I die. I’m tired of police officers getting away with murder.”
Many are reflecting on the loss of countless young black boys who never got to grow up. Tamir Rice. Laquan McDonald. Trayvon Martin. And many more. It is estimated that young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than young white men. And many are noting that this country channels more of its money into the criminal prison pipeline system than into public education and restoration of low-income communities. Still, Samaria remains hopeful that her son’s death will be met with justice. She said, “They say you have to shake hands with the devil to get what you want. But I don’t want to shake hands with any devil. I’ll find a different route.”
Photo: At the park where Tamir Rice was shot, a constant stream of mementos. Michelle Zacarias | PW