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Family of Tamir Rice holds 'Rally for Justice' in downtown Cleveland

The rally comes weeks after the Justice Department dropped the case against two Cleveland police officers for the 2014 killing of the 12-year-old.
Credit: George Payamgis

CLEVELAND — The family of Tamir Rice held a rally on Friday afternoon in downtown Cleveland to renew their call for justice in the case of the 12-year-old boy who was fatally shot by Cleveland police in 2014. 

The "Tamir's Rally for Justice" comes just weeks after the Justice Department announced it would not bring federal criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers. 

"Please come out and join us in demanding and pursuing justice for Tamir. Trump’s DoJ ran out the clock on Tamir Rice’s case, but we’re never giving up on #JusticeForTamir. With a new administration we get a new DoJ, so we are renewing our hope and continuing the struggle. Join us in these next steps in person or online. Join us to relaunch Tamir's Campaign for Justice @justice4Tamir, because #BlackLivesMatter and Tamir's life mattered," organizers wrote on their Facebook page. 

Speakers and organizers will be joining us from around the country --Houston, Minneapolis, Louisville, LA, Kentucky. 

In closing the case in December, the Justice Department stated that video of the Rice shooting was of too poor a quality for prosecutors to conclusively establish what had happened.

According to Rice's family and its legal team, the Justice Department "held the request for two years, ignored recommendations of career prosecutors, eventually denying the request, but took another year before officially closing the case. As a consequence, the DoJ “ran out the clock” on one method of obtaining justice at the federal level."

Rice's family and legal team have sent the Justice Department a letter demanding an account of the dropped case, reasons for lack of notification of the victim’s family, and 'other mishandlings' of the case.

You can watch the rally in the player below:

The high-profile shooting helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and that became part of the national dialogue about police use of force against minorities, including children. The decision, revealed in a lengthy statement, does not condone the officers' actions but rather says the cumulative evidence was not enough to support a federal criminal civil rights prosecution.

Tamir was playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland on Nov. 22, 2014, when he was shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann, who is white, seconds after Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, arrived at the scene. The officers were called to the recreation center after a man drinking beer and waiting for a bus had called 911 to report that a "guy" was pointing a gun at people. The caller told a 911 dispatcher that it was probably a juvenile and the gun might be "fake," though that information was never relayed to the officers. 

To bring federal civil rights charges in cases like these, the Justice Department must prove that an officer's actions willfully broke the law rather than being the result of a mistake, negligence or bad judgment. It has been a consistently tough burden for federal prosecutors to meet across both Democratic and Republican administrations, with the Justice Department declining criminal charges against police officers in other high-profile cases in recent years, including in the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

In this case, the Justice Department said poor-quality surveillance video recorded in the area where the shooting took place prevented prosecutors from being able to conclusively determine whether Rice was or was not reaching for his toy gun just prior to being shot. The two officers who were investigated told authorities soon after the shooting that Rice was reaching for his toy weapon prior to being shot and was given multiple commands to show his hands.

But the video reviewed by federal prosecutors makes the sequence of events less clear. The grainy time-lapse video, which has no audio, "does not show detail or perspective" and the camera's view is obstructed by a police patrol car, prosecutors said. In addition, they said, though the positioning of the boy's arms suggests they were in the vicinity of his waist, "his hands are not visible in the video and it cannot be determined from the video what he was doing."

The Justice Department says seven use-of-force experts — three retained by the family, four by local authorities — reviewed the recording, but the poor quality of the video on which they relied and their "conflicting opinions added little to the case." The experts used by the family said the shooting was unreasonable while the four others said that it was reasonable.

The New York Times reported in October that the department had effectively shut down the investigation, but last month's announcement made it official.

Inconsistent witness statements also complicated any prosecution, and neither person said they saw exactly what Rice was doing just before the shooting, according to the Justice Department.

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Editor's Note: The below story aired on December 29, 2020