Tamir Rice was one of several names that made international headlines in 2014. He was a 12-year-old Black boy murdered by Cleveland police within seconds of their arrival at Cudell Recreation Center. His mother, Samaria Rice, has since worked long, hard, and tirelessly to get some inkling of justice for her son. As a part of that work, she has been challenging the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on its 2020 decision to close the civil rights investigation into the murder of Tamir Rice by former Cleveland Police Department Officer, Timothy Loehmann.
Here, Samaria Rice, Da'Shaun Harrison, and Joy James offer three separate responses to the DOJ's refusal to convene a grand jury for the prosecution of Timothy Loehmann. While these letters are broken into sections, they are each in conversation with one another. All three of the writers critique legalism/legal studies and discuss the antiblack violence of the state.
Overview and Analysis: The limitations of legalism in an antiblack world
Ms. Rice sent letters to the DOJ on April 16, April 29, and June 1, 2021 with the specific request that they reconsider their 2020 ruling and convene a federal grand jury. The DOJ, by way of Kristen Clarke—a Black woman and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ—met with Ms. Rice on October 27, 2021 in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, Ms. Rice requested, once more, that Assistant Attorney General Clarke and the DOJ consider reopening the investigation into Tamir's case.
This request was followed by a letter to the DOJ from 50 notable legal scholars and attorneys who also sought to have the investigation reopened, arguing that the ruling to close the investigation is unconstitutional. The letter urged the department to consider that their interpretation of Section 242—a statute enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866—is unfounded, stating that the particulars of Tamir's case "arguably commands the convening of a federal grand jury and prosecution" of Timothy Loehmann. The letter's authors summarize the shooting of Tamir and the evidence against Loehmann; explain why a convening of a federal jury under Section 242 is warranted; and argue that a federal grand jury is necessary and "required," considering the local grand jury process—citing allegations that the original grand jury was "tainted, defective, and aimed at providing a predetermined public exoneration as opposed to a good faith deliberation based on a fair presentation of the facts."
They conclude their letter with these words:
Curing a defective state process—in this case, one that appears to have been impermissibly slanted to protect local white law enforcement officials from accountability in the shooting death of a young black child—is consistent with the fundamental purpose of the federal civil rights laws and squarely within the mandate of the DOJ. Only an uncorrupted, fairly administered federal grand jury process can ensure justice and restore public confidence in the rule of law, both of which have been substantially diminished by the actions of local officials and police officers in this case.
Still, in spite of this plea, on January 28, 2022, the DOJ denied these varying requests to reopen the investigation. In the DOJ's response, addressed to Ms. Rice and her lawyer, Clarke named that in order "to establish a violation" of Section 242, it must first be proven that former-officer Loehmann "acted willfully" or "with the specific intent to do something the law forbids."
The federal government is standing by their 2020 decision to not convene a federal grand jury because Loehmann was, in Clarke's words, "not depriving Tamir of his constitutional rights." Clarke and her constituents are not in agreement with Ms. Rice, or the 50 lawyers, about Loehmann's murder of Tamir being enough to prosecute the officer under the Section 242 statute.
The letters from both the DOJ and the legal scholars are clear examples of the limitations of legal studies and legalism in an antiblack world. The U.S. Constitution establishes and protects the freedoms of its citizens, but black subjects were not citizens at the time of the writing of the Constitution; they were chattel. Despite attempts to legally represent black subjects as citizens through various amendments and statutes, the law continues to be used as justification for our murders precisely because the development and maintenance of this country required and requires antiblack violence. The DOJ's choice to deny the request to reopen this investigation makes clear the restrictions of critical race theory—which has been given an ample amount of attention in recent months—with regard to its (in)ability to create "justice" for black subjects. Legal studies—and critical race theory, for that matter—don't stand to undo the violence of law and legality as a structure whereby black humanity is objectified. Some of the signers of the letter sent to the DOJ are pioneering scholars in legal studies and critical race theory, but the fact that they don't wield enough power to sway the decision of the DOJ indicates that antiblack legalism holds more power than those who desire to honor black life. Black subjects can't be written into laws they were intentionally written out of.
There is no justice in the U.S. for black subjects because justice is a ruse; an attempt to deceive and coerce black folks into believing that it is even a possibility under a state that sanctions our deaths. Justice in the U.S. continues to be an enigma, particularly as it attempts to establish law and order through antiblack force and antiblack (interpretations of) policy and legal rights that legitimize murder by the state.
In waves of brutality and murder cases, before and after Tamir's death, we see the (legal) procedures by which "justifiable police homicide" rulings/determinations become the escape hatch through which the state walks free. Last fall, on September 13, 2021, Georgia police killed 12-year-old Leden Boynkins when they allegedly performed a risky pursuit intervention technique (PIT) maneuver on the car in which he and a 14-year-old with his father sat defenseless while they began a desperate collective conversation with police dispatchers. Charlie Moore, the Black father of the 14-year-old, requested an on-site supervisor to control the police, who were endangering children. (Allegedly, police surrounded and smashed car windows next to the children in the parked car.) Unable to de-escalate police violence, we ask for assistance from supervisors, civil rights laws, and attorney generals. Without the time to litigate or the conditions under which the vulnerability of Black life would be recognized, the father drove away, and 911 conversations continued—leaving the family at the mercy of a police chase.
Allegedly, police in squad cars rammed a civilian car. The car flipped over, and Leden died. Rather than take accountability for their violence, the state has incarcerated the parental driver, Charlie Moore, on felony murder charges for Leden's death.
On the same day in April 2021 that Derek Chauvin was to be sentenced, Ohio police killed 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant, firing four shots towards her as she threatened two girls during an altercation at a foster home. I am struck by another Black father's image of climate crisis that he shared with the media. Rather than watching the Chauvin verdict later that day, Rayshawn Whiting went to the neighborhood protest for Ma'Khia, and described our limited legalistic choices: "I've got daughters… I'm tired of it. I feel like a polar bear with the ice caps melting. We have nowhere to run. If we protect ourselves, we go to jail. If we don't, we die."
Neither the killings themselves nor the injustices surrounding Tamir Rice, Ma'Khia Bryant, and Leden Boynkin's murders are aberrations. We are taxed to pay for structures of state violence as well as ineffectual legalistic responses to violent police corruption. Our political strategies for protections will evolve in communal-democratic strategy sessions where we labor to control predatory violence by containing the violators we fund.
I met with you, Ms. Clarke, as well as your staff, two career attorneys, and one of your assistants on the 27th of October, 2021. I asked for an indictment on behalf of my son, and you said that statute 242 is very hard to challenge. I told you to challenge it anyway. How would we ever know if you don't challenge it? You said I don't know what Loehmann was thinking in his mind that day. And I said I don't care about what you think he was thinking that day. I also don't care what Loehmann was thinking about that day, November 22nd, 2014. Frank Garmback drove up, created a dangerous situation, and now my life has changed forever.
You really had me thinking you were going to do the right thing. You and your team would rather please the government than meet the needs of the people. What sense does it make that you, as a Black woman, represent Black and brown folks but refuse to tend to our needs?
After the horrible news from the DOJ, I now know that there will be no justice for Black and brown people in America when it comes to police murders and police shootings. The DOJ breaks their own rules, so how do we get justice in a system like that? They are cowards, and the system can't be fixed.
You name that there is no proof that Loehmann "acted willfully," but Loehmann had his gun sitting on his lap as Garmback pulled their police car just a few feet in front of my son. They created the danger. Willfully. The two horrible Cleveland police officers should be indicted and charged with first degree murder, conspiracy and the cover up of Tamir Rice's murder.
Ms. Clarke, 50 of your constituents, and some of your mentors, disagreed with your position and despite that fact, you stood by the 2020 ruling to not convene a federal grand jury. I believed that since you are a Black woman, you would do the right thing. But you are an ass kisser and a big disappointment to me as a Black woman. I would never want to be like you, and I hope our little Black girls will never be like you and fake-ass Ms. [Kamala] Harris. I feel sorry for you. All you people in power will meet Satan at the Altar. Two Black women in power and unwilling to support the needs of Black people; what a damn shame.
As the people, we must vote y'all asses out of the damn administration. And to the Congressional Black Caucus: you all should look in the mirror as well. Most of y'all are pitiful and pathetic. Y'all have stood for nothing. America is designed to fail Black and brown people. You may think you are one of the white people with power, but you better double back and look in the mirror. A child can be killed in America and the American legal system will justify it. This system is broken from the inside out and it can't be fixed. No one will give us justice in the DOJ where they commit crimes of genocide, conspiracies, and the cover up of murders on American citizens—especially for Black and brown people. I'm so disgusted with the DOJ, Democrats, Biden and all other presidential administrations. None of you all have ever done right by the people that put your sorry asses in office, and now I know they will not ever make it right.
Genocide is so real in America; that's the way its designed for Black and brown people. If they could, they would put us back in chattel slavery; that's the way they want to see it done.
Black people: we will not get justice in this system. Save yourself, train your family, the war has been here. It's time to be all the way woke.