Taking the streets for Tamir

January 6, 2016

Tim Adams and Michael Vinson report on protests in response to the decision not to indict the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

PROTESTERS gathered across Ohio and beyond following a Cleveland grand jury's decision not to indict Timothy Loehmann, the police officer responsible for murdering 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014.

The basic details of Tamir Rice's murder are well-known, due to a video recording of the event that spread quickly after its release. On the evening of November 22, Tamir was playing with Tajai Rice, his 14-year-old sister, at a community park, the Cudell Recreation Center, while holding a toy gun.

A Cleveland 911 dispatcher received a call from someone who reported that there was an individual, who they noted was "probably a juvenile," at the center with a gun that was "probably fake." Cleveland cops Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann responded to the call.

Garmback drove the police vehicle within only a few feet of Tamir, while Loehmann--who had been fired from his previous job as a cop in Independence, Ohio, after being declared "mentally unfit"--exited the car and, within two seconds, shot Tamir.

Protesters march for Tamir Rice after a grand jury refused to indict the cop who killed him
Protesters march for Tamir Rice after a grand jury refused to indict the cop who killed him

Neither officer provided first aid to Tamir after the shooting. Tajai, who ran to Tamir's side, was tackled, handcuffed and forced into the backseat of the police vehicle. Tamir died the next day. Garmback and Loehmann justified the murder by saying that Tamir had reached for a gun in his waistband, but this claim was refuted by video evidence showing Tamir's hands were in his pockets at the time of his murder.

Coming only a few months after the rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri, galvanized people globally and sparked one of the biggest waves of protest against racism since the civil rights movement, Tamir Rice's murder sparked renewed demonstrations in Cleveland and beyond.

FOLLOWING THE completion of an investigation of the shooting last June, the case was sent to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who would later present evidence to a grand jury for possible criminal charges against Loehmann.

Also in June, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine released his non-binding decision that there was "probable cause" for charging Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, and charging Garmback with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.

However, despite McGinty's formal role as a prosecutor, he served in effect as a defense attorney for Loehmann, commissioning and releasing reports from three so-called "experts" that found Tamir's death to be "tragic, but reasonable."

McGinty stooped so low as to accuse Rice's grieving family of being driven by "economic motives" rather than a desire to see justice for their murdered son. Not surprisingly, McGinty recommended to the grand jury that they not indict Loehmann on any charges.

McGinty's recommendation ignored two alternative reports from a panel commissioned by the Rice family's attorney, Subodh Chandra, which noted that McGinty's "expert" reports ignored the "reckless tactics" utilized by Garmback and Loehmann in the moments before the shooting--such as Garmback's decision to immediately pull up next to Tamir, instead of maintaining greater distance in accordance with regular procedure.

Additionally, the two alternative reports noted several contradictions among the three "expert" reports on the key points of the case, including whether Tamir had reached into his waistband.

Nevertheless, McGinty's efforts to "sabotage" the case, in the words of the Rice family, and the media's shameless and racist victim-blaming tactics--such as focusing on the supposedly "intimidating" height and weight of 12-year-old Tamir Rice --set the stage for the grand jury's refusal to issue an indictment.

CLEVELAND--WHERE 100 percent of people killed by police in 2015 were Black, according to a report published by the Mapping Police Violence research project--has seen protests almost every day since the decision was issued on December 28.

On January 1, about 100 protesters marched to Prosecutor McGinty's house to demand that he resign. The next day, demonstrations continued outside of a Cleveland Cavaliers home game. Activists marched through downtown Cincinnati the day after the non-indictment was issued, carrying toys to symbolize Tamir Rice's childhood and his family's loss.

In New York City, a demonstration organized by several groups, including Black Lives Matter NYC, Millions March NYC, NYC Shut It Down and People's Power Assembly NYC, brought out more than 100 protesters, who defied freezing rain and hail to march and shut down the Brooklyn Bridge in solidarity with Tamir Rice and his family.

This demonstration came on the heels of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signing of an executive order that appoints the New York state Attorney General as special prosecutor in cases where police are involved in the deaths of unarmed civilians.

In Boston, dozens of people defied freezing temperatures to protest the decision not to indict Rice's killer. In 2015, 100 percent of the people killed by police in Boston were Black.

SOME 200 people from across Ohio gathered for a rally at the Ohio statehouse in Columbus on December 30. The rally was organized by CBUS2Ferguson, a local group that has organized numerous rallies and similar events since the rebellion in Ferguson in August 2014.

Rally organizers read aloud the three principle demands issued by Cleveland activists: Termination for Loehmann and Garmback, a federal Justice Department investigation of McGinty and his removal as Cuyahoga County prosecutor; and a Justice Department investigation of the murder of Rice.

Tammy Fournier Alsaada, an organizer with the People's Justice Project and the Palestine Solidarity Group, spoke at the rally, calling attention to the institutional racism of the police and demanding that the whole criminal justice system be dismantled. Responding to recent debates about whether rallies were effective in winning justice, Alsaada said:

The mobilizations are part of this movement. We have an obligation to stand here, petition our government in this state capital, and demand justice for Tamir Rice. Each of us has an obligation to wake one another up. This is a human obligation.

Following the rally, demonstrators marched to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's offices at Rhodes Tower to call on him to issue a statement supporting the Cleveland activists' three demands. This was Columbus activists' second attempt to meet with DeWine about the Rice case, following a delegation organized in November on the one-year anniversary of Tamir's murder. That time, DeWine's staff avoided any commitments to organizing a meeting with activists.

The march shut down half of Broad Street, one of the busiest downtown streets, and halted midday traffic in a major intersection. Security at the Rhodes Tower, a publicly owned building, initially attempted to block marchers from entering by locking the front doors, but reluctantly agreed to open one door and allow them to enter in a single-file line.

Hundreds of marchers filled the lobby, chanting "Black Lives Matter," "DeWine, what will you do? This is on you!" "Justice for Tamir," and "No justice, no peace! No racist police!"

Building security told organizers that DeWine was on vacation, but a delegation of 10 people could meet with representatives of the Attorney General's office. While the delegation met with DeWine's staff, protests continued in the lobby with an open mic for anyone to share their thoughts on the murder of Tamir Rice, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Longtime community activist Brother Blondie talked about the racist double standards in the criminal injustice system as illustrated by the case of Elaine Rothenberg, a white woman who pointed a toy gun at civilians and police, but was arrested without force:

I've seen this far too much. Far too often. The other day, this past weekend, in Connecticut, a 66-year-old Caucasian woman pulled out a toy gun, pointed it at police, [but] they apprehended her, they arrested her, they put handcuffs on her, and she was tried. They didn't kill her; they didn't beat her up. You didn't see scars on her face, not one scratch on her chin...

There are too many white men and women who have guns and fire at the police, but you don't hear about the police shooting and killing them. They apprehend them, they put cuffs on them. Why can't they give Black folks that same kind of justice? It makes no sense. As Black men and women, we are at war.

Brother Blondie emphasized the importance of making the Black Lives Matter Movement inclusive of all Black people, adding, "When I mention that Black Lives Matter, I mention that all Black lives matter, whether you are shot and killed by a cop, a white man, or another Black man. All Black lives matter, whether you are straight, gay, lesbian or transgender."

CBUS2Ferguson member Wriply Bennet said:

We have to effect change. That is why we are here. That is what we stand for. We cannot continue to stand on the shores of a crumbling system. We need to rise above, to dismantle, to rebuild. How can there be laws made to protect us but undo us at the same time? [This is] a broken system. And when the system's broken, everything that follows is broken. We cannot be a broken people anymore, we cannot be a broken system anymore. We need to rebuild.

THE DELEGATION met with Stephen Schumaker, the Ohio Deputy Attorney General for Law Enforcement, and other representatives of the Attorney General's office for over an hour. Members of the delegation repeatedly returned to the lobby to update ralliers and help maintain the energy of the demonstration.

Activists demanded that DeWine be included in the meeting by telephone and make a statement on the demands of Cleveland activists that day. DeWine's representatives rejected this and agreed only to issue a statement saying that Tamir Rice's death was a "horrible, horrible tragedy"--the first and only statement on this case made by the office of the state's top "law enforcement" office.

DeWine's staff promised activists a meeting with DeWine within the next weeks, but refused to give a specific day and time. The delegation returned to the rally, where chanting and singing continued for some time before protesters agreed to leave collectively to regroup and prepare for the promised meeting.

"The system has allowed not only for his killer to walk free; they have shamed the family," CBUS2Ferguson member Demarcus Scott told local ABC 6 News. "They have disregarded the family's grief [and] we will keep fighting, every day. We'll be back here if we have to. We are going to make sure that this little boy didn't die in vain."

As former Black Panther and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal said of Rice's murder:

This should inspire movements worldwide to fight like never before. For something vile has happened before our eyes. A child has been killed, and in America--because it's a Black child--it means next to nothing."

We will never stop fighting for Tamir Rice, and all others slain by police violence, and we will never stop insisting that their lives do matter.

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