In watching the demonstrations unfold in response to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police, Samaria Rice has been torn over the changing tide. “We’ve protested peacefully over the years and this is actually the worst I have seen since I’ve been alive,” says Rice, whose son Tamir was fatally shot by a former Cleveland police officer in 2014. “It’s just amazing where we’re still at today and that the powers that be have not said, ‘Hey, we’re going to try to fix things as American citizens of this country.” Samaria had been planning a march in celebration of Tamir’s 18th birthday on June 25, but restrictions of large gatherings due to COVID-19 have put that on pause. Still, unaffiliated demonstrators plan to gather at Cudell Rec Center Park this Saturday at 2 p.m. to celebrate his life. Here, we talk to Samaria about marching for justice, the power behind protests and Tamir’s 18th birthday.
How do you feel about the current protests that are happening nationwide, and what are some ways we can make progress?
We are aware of the protests that have been happening around the country for days now. I’m just concerned about the citizens and people being tear-gassed and rubber bullets being shot at them because of the vandalism, the fires burning and the destruction. A lot of that has been infiltrated with white folks and anarchy folks, and I’m concerned about people who are out there really just doing the work for the peaceful protests, that the message is getting lost or has gotten lost.
I have proposed a solution as far as stripping police of their policies, doing away with the police bill of rights and the Garrity law and the Blue Alert law. All of those need to be done away with and I think we all need to be on that accord, to go up into Congress, approach our Gov. [Mike DeWine] and have our governor talk to the Supreme Court at this point. Law enforcement officers are able to kill us and have immunity after killing us. That’s why nothing is changing in this country because those documents need to be created and brought to legislation. So we need to strategize as the people and figure out how we can get the documents up there. Those things need to be addressed and they need to be addressed now.
It’s been six years since the death of your son, and there’ve been a lot of marches and protests since then in honor of Tamir and others who’ve lost their lives. How have protests evolved since then?
What I’m seeing now is just the rage of the people. The rage of the hopeless. The tiredness. The fear. They don’t fear anything. Some of these protestors are saying, "Kill me now." It’s very concerning to see the people in distress like that and I don’t want another life to be taken during any type of protest or for law enforcement to take another life.
Back then, they were getting activated and learning how to protest and the correct way to protest to make sure their voices were being heard, and they were standing up for what they believe in. A lot of these folks were teenagers coming out for the first time, so they wanted to know the right way to do it and the most effective way to do it.
I’m not condoning vandalism, fires, taking people’s merchandise. I think all of that is crazy. It makes things worse for us as American citizens because a lot of our cities are on lockdown and we have early curfew. [Mayor] Frank Jackson put a perimeter around downtown Cleveland. And remember COVID-19? Some folks have masks on and some don’t, but it’s still scary to have to see that.
I understand folks are angry, and we are tired. We’ve been overly tired. George Floyd’s murder really took things over the top because of how he was murdered. The officer never took his knee out of his neck and that’s just a form of disrespect in everybody’s face as American citizens. Not even the officers were like, "Okay, man, let up."
So, when does the humanity of this come in play as a human being?
What resonates differently with people about the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd?
I believe these three cases have put people over the top. With Ahmaud Arbery, I don’t care what he was doing, no one deserves to die like that. With Breonna Taylor, they had the wrong address and her boyfriend shot when someone burst in the door and they did not announce themselves. And with George Floyd, with the man having his knee in his back and smiling with his hand in his pocket, it was disrespectful and there was just no care for human life.
We’re not getting any convictions when these police officers murder our loved ones. That has been going on way before Tamir, and certainly after Tamir with all of the murders that have occurred since then. It’s unbelievable. I’m very irritated and irritable at this country’s lack of responsibility to convict law enforcement officers.
I believe that the people, the citizens of America, are standing up and they are tired. If they don’t do something soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this country. The National Guard are already here, so what’s going to be the next thing? Martial law? I’m scared. I’m nervous. As an American citizen, everybody should be nervous up here right about now.
What are you planning in celebration for Tamir’s 18th birthday?
I wanted to do a march for Tamir, but with Frank Jackson saying no social gatherings, I started making plans to honor Tamir’s 18th birthday with multiple projects that I’m launching in the next couple of weeks. I teamed up with bonfire.com to design another T-shirt if someone wants to stand in solidarity with us. We’re working on a memorial design over at Cudell Recreation Center. We have been approved by [Cleveland City Councilman] Matt Zone to work on a design and we hope to have that for everyone by the end of this month. I’m also hoping to put new doors and windows on the [Tamir Rice Afrocultural] Center because we get a lot of community support, and I want people to see where their money is going. I want to renovate the building. We’re also going to do an 18-bag giveaway where I’ll put some snacks in a bag from the Tamir Rice Foundation, a T-shirt, some literature about the foundation and things like that.