UPDATED: 8:10 a.m. ET, June 25, 2020 —
Nearly six years have gone by since 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland. As the days neared Rice’s 18th birthday on Thursday, his mother has been reflecting on her son’s killing.
“You don’t get over nothing like this,” she said in an interview that was published on Tuesday. “It’s an empty feeling of loss when you don’t have your puzzle complete.” She said she was only able to endure “through the grace of God” and admitted that seeing videos of the recent police killings of Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd have left her “sick mentally, physically, emotionally.”
Samaria Rice offered sympathy to the mothers of Brooks and Floyd and said she’s too familiar with the “pain, the sickness, the confusion, the fogginess” that they must be experiencing. She also encouraged other “Mothers of the Movement” — women who have lost their children to senseless police violence — to use their voices to demand change to police departments.
Throughout it all, Samaria Rice has remained steadfast in her fight against Timothy Loehmann, the cop who killed her son.
“Listen to your mama talking, baby,” she wrote in a birthday letter to her son that was published in ESSENCE last year. “My own consciousness has grown since you were stolen so brutally from me. No mother, no father, no sister or brother should ever go through what we went through—and are still going through.”
On November 22, 2014, Rice was killed while playing in a park with an Airsoft pellet gun. A resident called 9-1-1 believing the gun may have been real. Loehmann and his partner Officer Frank Garmback responded to the call. Video of the incident caused widespread outrage not just because of Rice’s age, but also because he was shot within seconds of police arriving on the scene. The police cruiser was still moving when Loehmann shot Rice on the spot.
Following the shooting, Loehmann escaped criminal charges and returned to work until he was fired in 2017 when it came to light that he had resigned from a previous department after six months when several supervisors determined he was unfit to be a police officer. Loehmann was even rehired at another Ohio department, who then rescinded the offer after facing massive backlash.
“This is what I’ve learned since you’ve been physically gone: We all have to keep fighting against injustice. More Black people need to become involved in local politics and gain a deeper understanding of how city governments work,” Samaria wrote to Rice.
Since her son’s death and Loehmann subsequently getting off scott free, Samaria has been working hard to keep Rice’s killer off the streets. When he was rehired by the Bellaire, Ohio Police Department, Samaria launched a letter writing campaign, which may have contributed in part to him being terminated.
In March, Loehmann, with the endorsement of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association (CPPA), filed an appeal against the city of Cleveland to overturn his termination. On June 3, Samaria delivered 170,000 petitions to the CPPA against Loehmann’s potential rehiring.
In addition to working to make sure Loehman never wears a badge again, Samaria has been keeping the memory of her son alive. In May 2018, she announced she and the Tamir Rice Foundation would be renovating a two-story building to create a youth center where kids can have access to mentors and learn how to engage in political systems. And more painfully, she wanted to destroy the gazebo where Rice took his last breaths but decided against it. It was dismantled in 2016 and on Saturday, the gazebo was moved to Chicago as a temporary memorial for Rice. Samaria attended the dedication on Sunday, which was held by the nonprofit Rebuild Foundation, and thanked organizers and guests on social media.
Though Rice will go down as a solemn memory and tragedy in the eyes of many, he was first and foremost a son, a grandson and a brother. Despite how busy Samaria has been since his death, she said she has never forgotten the Tamir many of us didn’t get a chance to know.
“Your brother, sisters, and I will forever love and miss you, but we will never stop honoring your life and building your legacy,” she wrote. “And I know you’ll be looking down on us, baby. I know you will. Ask me how I know? I feel you when I breathe.”
“Happy Birthday, Tamir. I look forward to remembering and honoring and cherishing this day for years to come.”