Until the killing of … Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son—we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens. –Ella Baker
It has been almost 5 years since former Cleveland, Ohio, police officer Timothy Loehmann, then 26, gunned down 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 0.792 seconds while the child played with his 14-year-old sister in a gazebo at Cudell Recreation Center, a place that had become a safe haven for the children in the 8 months since they had moved into the community with their mother, Samaria Rice.
On Nov. 22, 2014, Tamir was playing with a pellet gun, which Loehmann, who had been with CPD less than 8 months, and his partner, Frank Garmback, then 46, allegedly mistook for a deadly weapon.
“Shots fired, male down, um, black male, maybe 20,” either Loehmann or Garmback radioed in. “Black handgun.”
But there was no black handgun; there was just an innocent Black child—and the only violence that took place that day was state-sanctioned terror. After Loehmann killed Tamir, police officers then assaulted and handcuffed Tamir’s sister as she ran sobbing to check on her baby brother.
“You know, me and my children, we saw Trayvon [Martin]; then we saw Eric Garner, then Michael Brown,” Samaria Rice, 42, tells ESSENCE. “Then guess who we saw next?”
Public outrage escalated quickly. The Cleveland Police Department eventually fired Loehmann and suspended Garmback for 10 days without pay, but neither police officer was indicted in Tamir’s death. The city of Cleveland settled with his family for $6 million, but still blamed Tamir for his own state execution, stating that it was “directly and proximately caused by the failure of [Tamir] to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
At the time, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who has since been voted out of office, said, “The death of Tamir Rice was a tragedy. But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime.”
“The law that binds us.” Us. As if we are really a collective of citizens with the same rights, power, privileges, and freedom. McGinty’s words were both warning and reminder that Black people are still tethered to a country that views our children as disposable.
No one in this world understands that unspeakable horror, nor feels it deeply in their bones every single second of every day, like Samaria Rice, who has never, and will never, stop seeking justice for her son—even when it feels like the rest of the world has moved on.
Rice is a powerful woman, unafraid and unapologetic about speaking her truth, who has used her anguish as fuel for the war she still finds herself fighting. While organizing to make sure that Loehmann is not rehired by the Cleveland Police Department, Rice is still building on her vision for a community center in Cleveland to honor her baby boy.
“The Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center for inner-city youth was conceived because I want to give back to the community,” Rice said. “We will teach art, music, economics, and wellness. I see children struggling with their sex and gender identities, so we’re going to have an LGBTQIA+ unit to educate us all. We will also provide mentorship and civic classes for students who want to become involved in politics. We’re going to show them the right steps to do it.”
For Rice, it’s critical that inner-city youth in Cleveland, Tamir’s peers, are taught the information that she was not exposed to growing up.
“America told me a lie, a big white lie, and I won’t be telling no child a lie,” Rice tells ESSENCE. “They really had me thinking Christopher Columbus discovered America and I believed it because that’s what they taught me.
“I was forced to wake up when my son was murdered, “Rice continued. “We’re going to offer Pan-African courses and we’re going to teach these babies the truth. We have to start young, so they know they need to love on each other and care for each other.”
As ESSENCE previously reported, Rice has purchased the property that will house the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center, but there is still about $500,000 in renovation needed. She’s currently working with local architects to create a visual design to shop around to sponsors. Rice has also partnered with her friend, Chicago artist Theaster Gates, and the Rebuild Foundation to create a monument to Tamir at the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, using materials from the gazebo where Loehmann killed her child. She obtained ownership of the gazebo after the city announced plans to tear it down.
Rice is simultaneously building structures to serve Black communities, while fighting to destroy institutional infrastructures that harm us—starting with the Cleveland Police Department.
Loehmann—who has a documented history of being “weepy,” “lacking maturity,” an “inability to perform basic functions as instructed,” and exhibiting a “dangerous loss of composure during live range training”—should “not be hired to work at any police department in America, let alone Cleveland,” Rice tells ESSENCE.
“As I always say, Loehmann was fired for lying on his job application, not for murdering my son,” she continues. “We had to fight it when they hired him in Bellaire, Ohio, and still we’re fighting now. Every time I look at our petitions on Move.org and Change.org, the numbers are growing. We definitely have the people behind us.”
The people, Rice says, but not the politicians. During the 2016 presidential election, Mothers of the Movement, a collective of mothers whose children were lost to gun violence—state and otherwise—joined forces to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Notably, Rice was not among them.
“Hillary Clinton reached out to me and I told her I was not interested because she couldn’t call the Department of Justice and get an indictment for my son,” Rice tells ESSENCE. “They actually wanted to feature Tamir and Trayvon in a commercial and I said no. Though I am close to some of the mothers—Eric Garner’s mother [Gwen Carr], Sandra Bland’s mother [Geneva Reed-Veal], and even Trayvon’s mother [Sybrina Fulton] at the time, I wanted no part of the shenanigans and told Clinton that during a private meeting in Chicago.”
“My son was murdered and that’s the bottom line,” Rice continued. “I’m not interested in a political side, I’m interested in the right side.”
Now that Trump is in office, it’s even worse, Rice says—harder to find justice and harder in occupied communities around the nation.
“These racist cops were mad because a Black man was President of the United States,” Rice told ESSENCE. “But now that Trump is in office, they got a super ‘S’ on their chests.
“Still, I have no respect for Barack or Michelle Obama,” Rice said. “All those Black babies that died under [Obama’s] watch? No. And Michelle mentioned Tamir in Becoming and has never reached out to me. I don’t care about him being the first Black President, I don’t. My son’s case is still at the DOJ and it’s going on 5 years—and now we won’t see any movement with Trump in office.”
“So, I’m not thinking about the government, any of them,” Rice continued. “I’m here for the people. My son will not die for nothing. Black people have too much, too many resources, to let this white government win every time. I’m almost embarrassed to be an American.”
Rice says that every protocol in the book was broken the day Loehmann killed her baby. And she is hopeful that Bryan Stephenson and the Equal Justice Initiative will help her take her son’s case to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, she’s also trying to live with the immense, intense weight of not only her grief, but her children’s grief.
“I have not been able to heal here,” Rice tells ESSENCE. “I’m looking into some natural healing, or even leaving the country—somewhere where the sun shines and people, Black and white, are nicer, because Ohio is awful. It’s like a bad spirit over this place and it takes a toll on my body. Being a Black woman, the police will try to harass me until they realize who I am, then they’ll leave me alone. And I’ll tell them instead of profiling me, try solving a crime.
“See, at this point, I have nothing to lose,” Rice continued. “White supremacy is here, but guess what? I’m going to make them uncomfortable every chance I get. That’s my job.”
Continuing to raise her three, living children still suffering from the death of their brother is her job, too—one that has been made that much more difficult with the death of her baby boy.
“My children didn’t want to listen to me and they’re making a lot of bad decisions,” Rice says. “My 19-year old daughter, the one you saw tackled and handcuffed in the police car after Tamir was shot, is about to have a baby. She suffers with PTSD and anxiety. We’re all going through the same thing and the care that we need is not here.”
Through her sheer exhaustion, though, Rice never stops thinking through ways to honor her son. She says she’s been in talks with Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), to bring a social justice concert to Cleveland to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Tamir’s death this year. And she hopes that high-profile artists and celebrities will come aboard.
But if Rice believes anything, it’s that plans don’t always come to fruition in the ways we intend or hope.
“This, this life, was not my plan. This was God’s plan. This is not my life,” Rice says. “Tamir was going to be athlete. My daughter wanted to go into modeling. My other daughter wanted to be a neonatal nurse, and my other son, who loves cars, wanted to go into electrical engineering. And I was working toward being a real estate investor.
“So, I had my plan together,” Rice, who is now a civil rights leader and public speaker, continued. “But you see what God did? You see how God worked it out? And I know I’m covered and anointed, still.”
Even with that anointing, the pain of having her youngest child stolen from her in such a brutal way has not faded. Rice says that Mother’s Day—like every other holiday—no longer brings her joy, even though she tries to be present for her other children.
“I do not enjoy any holidays anymore because my son was so young and he was supposed to be celebrating these holidays with me,” Rice said. “I try to enjoy it the best that I can because I do have the other kids, but it’s really just another day for me and I’m usually numb.”
Rice knows that Tamir has become, in many ways, a symbol of the movement, but, to her, he will always be just her baby boy.
“Tamir was the youngest of my four children,” Rice said with a smile in her voice. “He had only been 12 for five months. He was definitely a mama’s boy. He was an all-American kid. He loved sports, video games, cartoons, and big stuffed animals. He loved cheese pizza and salad with only cheese and ranch dressing.
“He loved to crack jokes and prank,” Rice laughed. “He was my big, gentle giant.”
Rice sits with memories of her baby before continuing.
“To lose Tamir in that horrible way. I have no answers and I’m angry a lot of the time,” she said quietly. “I have no answers to why they did that to my child. I’m fighting the government and police each and every day, and I’m so tired.
“But I will never sell out, cave in, or give up,” Rice said with conviction and strength in her voice. “My life is God’s life. Everything I do is for the people. Everything I do is for my son.”
Click here to donate to the Tamir Rice Pan-African Cultural Center.