Half a billion reasons to not build a new jail
Sunday, 2022-02-20, “Stop the New Jail Plan! End Evictions! End the War Against the Poor!” rally in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND – The NBA All-Star Weekend began here Feb. 18 at the site where police murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. But inside the Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir once played basketball, a dedication ceremony for a new gym failed to dedicate any time to honor his life or to support the continuing calls for justice.

Despite an ongoing campaign for justice for America’s youngest victim of police murder, when the top bosses of the NBA and Cleveland Cavaliers joined Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, and U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown (D Ohio 11) on the sacred grounds of Cudell, none of them ever once mentioned Tamir’s name.

Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, responded in outrage, going live on Facebook. She called an emergency action to disrupt this erasure of the historic civil rights case.

“People want to have a ceremony over where he was murdered, and they don’t say anything about my son?! That’s disrespectful,” she said on FB Live.

Co-lead organizer of Tamir’s Campaign for Justice, Josiah Quarles, was one of six activists who answered Rice’s call to action. Undeterred when they were denied entry into the Rec Center with their flyers, the protesters went to the side doors that were cracked open for electrical wires. There they chanted Tamir’s name and “No justice no peace!” They held a banner up that said, “Justice for Tamir” and passed flyers to the passersby. “We blocked traffic momentarily with our banner to try to leverage to get into the building. We talked to the media that came to the event, and live streamed on Facebook.https://www.facebook.com/1042406065/videos/228080102789674/,” one participant told People’s World.

“At Cudell,” Quarles told People’s World, city officials, “issued platitudes and did nothing.” But, Quarles reported, the protesters’ actions had an effect: media coverage included the protest and the call for justice for Tamir. “We shifted the narrative,” said Quarles.

When local news outlet WKYC questioned Mayor Bibb on the omission, he responded, “Moving forward, anything that we do at this rec center, we want to make sure it recognizes the legacy of Tamir Rice.”


The NBA All-Star Weekend was hosted at various locations throughout the city.

Taking advantage of the increased focus on Cleveland, Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition and Greater Cleveland Housing Justice Coalition took to the streets Feb. 20, decrying investment in sports stadiums and celebrity appearances at the expense of the needs and issues of the poor and working class.

The two multiracial, multi-gendered, intergenerational Coalitions of working-class people build unity around issues facing those who have been affected by police violence and the carceral system as well as those who have been evicted, made houseless, and displaced by predatory real estate investors.

Calling people together in downtown Cleveland during peak hours of All-Star festivities, the Jail Coalition rallied to oppose the County’s plans to spend over 500 million taxpayer dollars on a new jail. According to a press release from the Coalition, this massive amount of money could instead be used to stabilize communities with things like housing and social services. “There are half-a-billion reasons to NOT build a new jail,” the Coalition stated.

The coalitions have a vision for the future: Their joint press release points out that the county could invest that half a billion dollars in affordable and high-quality housing as a foundation for community stability. It could invest in Care Response emergency services that intervene in moments of crisis without police and support people to access necessary health care services, it goes on, calling for investment in pretrial services to assist people in accessing the legal counsel they need to get the justice they deserve. The Coalitions call for ending cash bail, “so the poor have the right to be just as ‘innocent ‘til proven guilty’ as the rich, and so over a third of the current jail population can go home.”

The Coalitions also call for investment in community-based re-entry services that support people to better integrate into society after being incarcerated, ending source-of-income discrimination and enacting pay-to-stay legislation to help protect people from homelessness, incentivizing unionized companies that pay a living wage to provide jobs in high-unemployment neighborhoods and investing in equitable public transit and infrastructure so that people living in historically redlined neighborhoods can access the local economy.

They also called for investment in our public schools’ and libraries’ wrap-around services that meet the daily living needs of the children they serve, who are 80% Black and Latino and 100% “economically disadvantaged,” according to the Cleveland Municipal School District.

Cleveland police responded to the Coalitions’ presence downtown with more than one officer per activist. Quarles remarked on the heightened police response. “Every kind of police that they had were down there. The money was out for the All-Star Game.”

Quarles added, “The bike cops were very aggressive.” He said the protesters were a small group that didn’t try to take the whole street, but the police were making maneuvers, attempting to make arrests. “They tried to kettle us and called for back-up, so we made a strategic retreat to Public Square. We took it to the sidewalk,” he said.

Lu Zucker, co-lead organizer of the Jail Coalition, was not surprised by the response from the Cleveland Police.

“Overall, the police were doing their job to squash dissent and protect capital and profit,” Zucker told People’s World. “The NBA All Star Game in Cleveland is a clear example of extreme wealth hoarding in stark opposition to extreme poverty.”

Quarles reported that as the crowd chanted, “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!”

“There were just regular people who walked with us. People who were among the evicted, the houseless who walked with us. People catching their videos, people honking, cheering us on, stopping their cars and blocking traffic with us.”

Zucker said the Coalitions are looking forward “to building momentum of hope and faith in our own communities to make these changes a reality.”

Quarles agreed, “We’re going to continue to push this on every level. Get in their ear. People will not be able to refute the logic and the humanity of it.”


Molly Nagin
Molly Nagin

Molly Nagin works by trade as a massage therapist and grassroots organizer. Currently, she is working on issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, and criminal injustice at the level of city and county government systems. In her work at the Tamir Rice Foundation, she leads the design process, fundraising, and volunteer coordination of the Tamir Rice Butterfly Garden and Memorial.