Posted on November 18, 2019

Our Racism Killed Tamir Rice

Leila Atassi, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 17, 2019

The gazebo, under which 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down by a Cleveland police officer five years ago, now commemorates that tragedy from its temporary home on the grounds of an art museum in Chicago — nearly 350 miles away.

That ‘s how far we had to send it to escape facing what it symbolizes. The unthinkable death of a young black boy, who had been playing with a pellet gun, shot within seconds of a white rookie patrolman’s arrival.


It was Cleveland’s most shameful moment, when the terrible headlines from Ferguson, Missouri and New York City had found us, too. We were the nadir in the perennial story of police violence against black Americans.

And just like every high-profile police shooting of this past decade, Tamir’s slaying became a painful source of division and contempt, as a grand jury declined to indict the officer who pulled the trigger, and the police union spent its resources vilifying a 12-year-old boy.

So whatever sense of humanity Tamir’s death might have evoked in us as a city, we buried it deep, deep below the level where catharsis, or even reckoning, is possible.

We made no room for the gazebo, let alone healing or justice. We made no room for Tamir.


But our healing as a city depends on more than a set of reforms forced upon the police by a federal consent decree. It depends on whether we can finally acknowledge the injustice and racism that violently cut Tamir’s life so short.

It depends on whether we are ready to embrace what Tamir’s story has come to symbolize throughout the world, and to support his mother Samaria Rice’s efforts to affirm his legacy and help Cleveland find the lessons in his death.

Among her many projects, Rice is about to release ”Tamir’s Safety Guide,” a publication created under the tutelage of the ACLU of Ohio, designed to help black youth stay safe during encounters with the police in every setting — during traffic stops, when cops show up at a home, if they approach a youth on the street.


The reason for that, put plainly, is white America’s dangerous, racist and irrational fear. And it is alive in Cleveland. The fact that a grand jury concluded that officer Timothy Loehmann’s use of deadly force on a child was reasonable because, he said, he was afraid of him, simply reinforced those racist fears in our moral code.

And we, as a city and region in the aftermath of Tamir’s death, never faced that shameful truth.


Instead, we turned our back on Tamir and his family