“It’s just been a lot. Every time you turn on the news you see Tamir’s face, and that opens up new wounds,” said Tamir Rice’s cousin LaTonya Goldsby.
It’s been 11 months since 12-year-old Rice was gunned down by a Cleveland police officer and the family is tired of waiting around to know whether anyone will be brought to justice for his death.
“The entire situation is very stressful,” Goldsby, 41, told me over the phone.
The physical and psychological impact of Rice’s death has taken a heavy toll. “Tamir's mother has three other children to raise while she is fighting for justice for Tamir,” Goldsby said. “She’s had some stress issues, high blood pressure issues,” she said of Samaria Rice, the boy’s mother.
The agony Rice’s family has experienced for nearly a year now is a reminder of the destabilizing effects of police violence on victims’ families. Earlier this week, the mother of Freddie Gray, who died after suffering injuries in police custody in April, was hospitalized after a reported suicide attempt. Gray’s family received a $6.4 million settlement from the city of Baltimore, but the payment didn’t amount to an admission of liability. Six officers are on trial for their roles in Gray’s death.
“It’s been very troubling to be in this fight, to be fighting for justice and have to deal with people constantly examining our family,” Goldsby said of her family’s struggle.
Rice, who was black, was playing with his older sister in a Cleveland park when he was shot down without warning by Officer Tim Loehmann, a rookie on the force who was responding to a bad tip that Rice was brandishing a gun. The boy, it turns out, had been playing with a toy gun. At least eight officers responding to the shooting said that Rice appeared older than 12. One claimed he thought Rice looked 18 years old.
The investigation into Rice’s death is still ongoing. More than five months ago, the police department said its investigation was almost complete. But earlier this October, two outside reports by former law enforcement agents with no connection to the case were released by Cleveland Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s office. Both reviews absolved Officer Loehmann of wrongdoing. In fact one of the reports says he acted reasonably within the timeframe and circumstances. Rice was shot two seconds after the patrol car pulled up to next to him.
“The reports are biased,” said Goldsby. “We can’t begin to understand how they came to that conclusion,” she continued. “How can you justify shooting a child in two seconds?”
Goldsby, tired of waiting and skeptical of the prosecutor’s allegiance, is taking action.
“We’re disgusted with the way the prosecutor has handled this case,” said Goldsby, who started a change.org petition to call for a special prosecutor on her cousin’s case. “We’ve lost faith with the city of Cleveland. No one has been accountable for Tamir’s death,” she said.
The prosecutor’s office released a statement—posted in full on Fox’s Cleveland affiliate website—in response to the family’s demand. “The entire case, including all the facts that we and the various investigative teams can find, will be given to the Grand Jury which must act according to the law as laid down by the Supreme Court,” read the statement, indicating the prosecutor does not intend to step down. “No stone will be left unturned in our search for truth and justice.”
“I think there should be a special prosecutor for all police-involved death cases,” said Goldsby. “The police and prosecutor’s office are too connected to one another,” she said. “As a community, in order for us to heal, we need to be able to trust our prosecutor’s office.”
The petition currently has about 10,500 signatures, just 4,500 shy of reaching its goal.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.