The family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed by Cleveland police officers in 2014, is escalating pressure on the Justice Department to reopen the federal investigation into his death.
“It means everything to me and my family that we get some justice for Tamir,” Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, said on an organizing call this week with community members. “What that looks like for me is accountability, and an indictment, and a conviction. So I’m keeping the pressure on — we’re going to keep doing the work and we’ll keep everything going until they give me some answers.”
The Rice family and community organizers launched Tamir’s Campaign last month, an effort asking the public to request that the case be reopened and for the House Judiciary Committee to launch a separate investigation into the actions of former president Donald Trump’s DOJ, which quietly closed the case in December and announced there would be no federal charges against two Cleveland officers.
The family, who have been at odds with some national police reform groups and Black Lives Matter leaders, are acting with the support of dozens of members of Congress, and they’re doing so at a time when President Joe Biden’s Justice Department begins a wave of action around policing.
The family’s lawyers sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland in April, highlighting reports that political interference had stopped progress on the case even as career attorneys at the agency requested to convene a grand jury. The Rice family attorneys urged that there was no statute of limitations that would prevent former Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann from being charged for violating Rice’s civil rights when he shot him in 2014.
Loehmann, who was fired from the police department for lying on his job application, asked the Ohio Supreme Court to review his termination last month.
The push to reopen the federal investigation and to charge Loehmann for violating Rice’s civil rights is seen as one of the last ways to hold the former officer accountable after a grand jury declined to criminally charge two police officers in 2015.
“We are mindful that no one can guarantee a conviction and that prosecutions against police officers present special challenges,” the attorneys wrote. “But it is vital for [the] DOJ to establish that those who enforce our laws are subject to our laws.”
Subodh Chandra, an attorney representing the Rice family, said they have not received a response from the DOJ.
Organizers with the campaign said they’d begun planning to pressure the DOJ last winter following Biden’s victory. They have some reason for optimism: In just the last month, Biden’s Justice Department announced it would investigate the killing of Ahmaud Arbery as a federal hate crime and opened investigations into policing in Minneapolis and Louisville following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” Chandra told organizers on the call detailing the careers of the new DOJ leadership. “We know that there are going to be people in these positions who’ve devoted their lives to the cause of equal justice and ensuring there is solid police accountability.”
Organizers with the campaign say they want the Justice Department to reopen the investigation before Tamir’s birthday on June 25.
Sen. Sherrod Brown and a group of three Ohio representatives sent a letter to Garland in late April requesting that the case be reexamined. On the same day, Rep. Jamaal Bowman sent a letter signed by 41 other House members to Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and the White House asking for the same.
“We fully support carrying out Samaria Rice’s appeal to DOJ immediately, and we further urge that the results of the investigation be made public immediately upon completion,” the representatives wrote.
Organizers with the campaign said they were not familiar with any actions by national police reform advocacy groups to assist the campaign.
Samaria Rice and other family members of people killed by police have publicly feuded with prominent police reform advocates recently. Rice called out activists and groups like Black Lives Matter Global Network, Tamika Mallory, and prominent attorneys after Mallory, the cofounder of Until Freedom, appeared to speak about police brutality during a performance at the Grammys in March.
“The national organizers and lawyers who've had criticism of the comments that Miss Rice has made about the movement should put those criticisms aside and support and show up for her on her own terms in her fight toward getting justice for her son,” Molly Nagin, an organizer with the campaign, told BuzzFeed News. “Maybe if you build trust by showing up for her, some of those criticisms that she's raising won't be as applicable, but right now they're very applicable."