“I sent two children to play that day and only one came back.”
On November 22, 2014, Samaria Rice’s youngest daughter Tajai Rice, 15, and youngest son Tamir Rice, 12, went to Cumell Commons, a local park with a recreational center in Cleveland, Ohio. According to reports, someone called police reported that there was a young African American male waving a gun at the playground. Despite the caller saying he was “probably a juvenile” (he was) and that the gun was “probably fake” (it was), police drew their weapons, and within seconds of arriving, fired at Tamir, fatally shooting him.
In an interview with EBONY on May 29, 2015, Samaria described young Tamir as a “bright, loving child” who excelled in many areas. He was involved in the Boys & Girls Club and he played basketball, football, and soccer. “Basketball may have been his favorite, but he was good at all of them,” Samaria recalls. Her voice brightens when she speaks of how active he was and how talented he was at various sports. What did Tamir want to be when he grew up? “We were still working on it,” she said with sadness in her voice. “It could have gone any way, but I don’t know what he could have been.”
She moved her family to the community eight months before he was killed because she believed it was more diverse and safer, a better place to raise her family. Her eldest daughter, Tasheona Rice, now 19, was pregnant at that time with Talaya Rice, now 10 months. Samaria’s eldest son, Kavon Rice, now 16, and youngest daughter Tajai Rice, now 15, all shared a home with Tamir. They are a close-knit family and Samaria remarks that she has been raising her children alone as a single mother; none of their fathers have contributed much to their upbringing. This has not deterred her, however, and she has made the most of her family’s situation like so many mothers in her predicament do.
It is still extremely difficult for Samaria to talk about the day Tamir was shot and killed. According to the official complaint filed with Office of Professional Standards and Civilian Review Board in February of this year, Tajai was inside of the recreational center when she heard shots and was told that police had shot her brother. Video footage of the shooting corroborates Tajai’s story and shows her being tackled to the ground and handcuffed by Cleveland police as Tamir lay dying a few feet away under a gazebo. Samaria, who was threatened with arrest when she arrived on the scene, maintains to this day, “I still don’t know what happened to my son. I still don’t have any answers.” She has received no detailed, direct information from anyone involved in the shooting about what took place. The question remains: How did her son go out to play with his sister and friends and end up fatally shot in a playground?
After a few minutes of conversation, the immense love Samaria has for her children became apparent, and you can tell that she is very much involved in every aspect of her children’s lives. She spoke about her visits to her children’s schools, her meetings with their teachers, and how she is committed to remaining closely involved with their academic process and social development. “I’ve always been there. I’m just a phone call away. All children have challenges… Tamir had challenges. Whatever services [the schools] offered, [Tamir] maxed out…My children have tutors and get the help they need. I believe in counseling, and counseling has helped me and my children be where we are today,” she stated.
“He didn’t have to grow up too fast, he was a kid. I made sure he did kid things,” Samaria recalls of the choices she made in raising Tamir. “He was not a street kid. He was a mama’s boy. He was very clingy to me,” she remembers. She went on to speak a bit about the importance of providing structure for all of her children. “Every morning they have breakfast. I have a pep talk with them every morning. I tell them ‘If anyone is bothering you, let’s use our coping skills’. When they come home, they have snacks, or they go to their afterschool programs and do their homework,” she said. “You have to almost be their best friend, but keep that parenting line clear. They need that.”
Like most children, Tamir had chores and household responsibilities. He often had to clean his room, take out the trash, and vacuum. While he was able to wash dishes and mop floors, Samaria laughed a bit and said she “didn’t put too much on him. He didn’t have to do it. He was the baby. He had to take turns [with older brother Kavon], but he was still the baby. He could basically do what he wanted to do.”
“Being a single parent, you make sacrifices for your children. A lot of days, I put myself on the backburner for my children,” she said. Samaria doesn’t say much about the fathers of her children, but she is “very hurt” about Tamir’s father talking to the media about his’s death. “I don’t associate with [Tamir’s] dad at all… He never made a decision about Tamir in his life,” she explained.
She communicates regularly with teachers and engages with the counselors who provide support for her and her children. When I commended her for seeking the services her family needed she explained, “I’ve been in counseling since I was eighteen… My mom wasn’t there for me under the circumstances. I suggest everyone get a counselor, especially single moms, [and] if you know your child is having problems, let’s not avoid it. The services are out there and you need to get them help.”
We began to talk more about the importance of counseling, especially within Black communities and families. “You have to find the right match. I’d been searching and searching and I have someone and we have a nice relationship. But I’ve talked to many counselors and therapists and I don’t see nothing wrong with it. I suggest everybody get a counselor. We need an outlet, we need a different opinion and advice from people that are not a pastor or even a mom or dad or auntie or uncle. We just need other options. All you have to do is try it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to continue.”
Samaria says that she has also had family support and some community support. “People give me hugs. They tell me they are praying for me. A couple of the churches have blessed me. I’m very grateful. I didn’t ask for this, but I’m grateful. It can be very overwhelming sometimes, but I’m here. I’m in the fight,” she expressed. There have been online fundraisers and drives to help the Rice family try to transition into the next phase of their life after it was reported that they became homeless earlier this year. Samaria opted to move out of the home that was painfully close to where her youngest child’s life was taken. She and her children were living in a homeless shelter for a few months, something that she didn’t exactly want the public knowing at the time. Now, she and her family live in a smaller, newly furnished home, and have received and outpouring of support from all over the country and world.
What emerged from our conversation is that Samaria is finding a way to use her experience with this horrific tragedy as a way to connect with other mothers and encourage them, as so many have encouraged her. Losing her son to police violence has informed and empowered her in many ways to help others. “I had been invited years ago to be an advocate for single moms, but at that time I wasn’t ready. This experience and the tragedy like this, I can actually give a lot of moms guidance and encouragement. Everybody has a history and I can share what works for me.”
Samaria spoke of starting a foundation and scholarship to support other mothers in similar situations, which seems to give her a new purpose and determined focus. “Tamir is getting me up every morning because I’m still waiting on answers. I still don’t know what happened. I don’t want anyone to have to suffer like this. I want to be a part of making change. Whatever we have to do, I’m willing to do. I believe that we are in a war. We are in a war. They are out here killing us and whatever I can do to bring awareness to that, why not?”
She is not going to give up her fight for justice any time soon. “Justice is somebody taking responsibility for my son, along with a conviction. I am aware of the police bill of rights and the police union. I’m working on a plan to dismantle all of it. It’s going to be hard, but we have to start somewhere.”
At least 464 people in the U.S. have been killed by police this year. Too many mothers and fathers have lived through the incredible horror of losing their children like Samaria did, and few have been on the receiving end of anything that resembles justice. Nothing will bring Tamir back, but Samaria courageously continues to speak out, push through the tougher days, and advocate for radical changes to policing in this country. She is motivated to keep fighting “so no other child and family will have to endure the pain and suffering that I have had to go through.”
If you wish to offer support to the Rice Family, you can send letters and donations:
Samaria Rice & Family
c/o Elder Ford/ Mt. Sinai Baptist Church
7510 Woodland Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105
Feminista Jones is a writer, activist and social worker in New York City. Tweet her: @feministajones