Samaria Rice says she’s tired.
She’s running a foundation dedicated to children. She’s writing a memoir. She’s advocating for police reform — and she’s still trying to get justice for her son. “It’s not easy,” she says. “I’m just a mom, you know.”
But, over the past eight years, Rice also has become a formidable activist. No mom has a bigger platform than Tamir’s. From Cleveland. “I’m always gonna fight against the police and the government,” she says. “At the end of the day, the system is corrupt. It’s broken.”
Rice never thought that police brutality would touch her life. When she let her kids off the porch in Cudell on Nov. 22, 2014, she worried about the older teenagers at the recreation center across the street, not the police. “I never thought I would send two children out of the house and only one would come back,” she says.
We all saw what happened next, captured on grainy surveillance video: Tamir playing with a toy gun with no orange safety tip. A squad car arriving. An officer shooting Tamir within two seconds. Then came more shock, grief and outrage as a grand jury declined to indict Timothy Loehmann and his partner.
When the legal system didn't provide the justice Rice sought, Rice pursued it for her son on her own. But twice the Department of Justice has declined to pursue a civil rights investigation. Rice is undeterred. Though her fight is now national, she hasn't forgetten it started here. She has been a consistent voice for change in Cleveland. “I had never attended a city council meeting until my son was murdered,” Rice says. “But now that I am engaged, and I am listening … I participate in everything I can.”
Tamir would have turned 20 this year. With some of the $6 million she won in a lawsuit against the city, Rice bought a building on St. Clair Avenue. The Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center should be open next year.
Rice doesn’t sound tired. She sounds fearless. Listening to her, one still dares to dream that the city where Tamir was killed can learn from its mistakes. But Rice knows Cleveland isn’t there yet. That’s why she's building a place where children can feel safe and create art, like Tamir used to do.
Rice is doing everything she can to protect those children for one simple reason: "I know I live in Cleveland, Ohio."
Jacqueline Marino is a former associate editor of Cleveland Magazine. She is now a professor of journalism at Kent State University.