On November 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by a Cleveland police officer at the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Within two seconds of opening his car door, officer-in-training Timothy Loehmann shot and killed Tamir, who was playing in the snow with a toy pellet gun. The officers who killed Tamir were not indicted for his murder.
In 2016, at the request of Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, Rebuild Foundation received the gazebo where Tamir was playing when he was killed. Ms. Rice sought to preserve the structure as a community space for care, dialogue, and public engagement. Since receiving the gazebo, it has been on display in a deconstructed state, with original memorial material, inside the Arts Bank.
In memory of Tamir, the gazebo has been reconstructed in a reflection garden on the Stony Island Arts Bank lawn. The dedication ceremony, held on June 23rd, honored Tamir’s 17th birthday on June 25th. With the help of American Airlines, the dedication ceremony included words from the Samaria Rice and Theaster Gates and performances by Angel Bat Dawid, Yaw Agyeman, and Avery R. Young and the Rebirth/Reborn Youth Poets.
Remarks from the Dedication Ceremony:
“After we settled the Rice family’s civil rights case against the City of Cleveland and their two officers, Cleveland announced plans to demolish the gazebo. Ms. Rice had the foresight to put allies in motion to preserve it. A small impromptu working group of Black Lives Matter activists led by Opal Tometi put pressure on the City of Cleveland to delay demolition of the gazebo. While the gazebo was under threat of demolition, we reached out to several institutions around the country in the short timeframe we had to find a home for the gazebo. A Chicago journalist, Zach Stafford, and artist Hank Willis Thomas thought Theaster might be interested in preserving the gazebo, so they connected us to the Arts Bank. Theaster and the people at the Arts Bank were agile, thoughtful, and bold enough to immediately recognize the historical importance of preserving this physical structure. Theaster did not allow bureaucratic red tape to dictate his decision-making. The entire Arts Bank staff, past and present has made it possible for the gazebo to be here. I’m grateful to Theaster and the Arts Bank staff for their visionary efforts. Lastly, Brown and Momen, a Chicago-based general contractor, helped the Arts Bank to reconstruct the gazebo where it now stands. That’s how many people it has taken and there are many unnamed others who are part of the gazebo’s story.
What Theaster and the Arts Bank team has done is difficult work. They contended with a large, physical object. It is vital that we preserve history in its physical form. Much of our memory as a species and as a country is now digitized. But sometimes large, cumbersome objects host meaning and symbolism that the digital world is not capable of hosting. Uncomfortable memories hosted only in the digital world are flimsy and easy to avoid. Seeing the gazebo in photographs or in that fateful video of Tamir is a different experience from being in its physical presence. The City of Cleveland wanted to erase the uncomfortable memory of Tamir’s murder by demolishing the gazebo. But now, you cannot avoid the gazebo preserved in its physical form.
The gazebo allows us to be in the presence of Tamir’s last day. For most people in this country, a gazebo is a place of play, sanctuary, and gathering. In an instant, the two police officers who murdered Tamir reconstructed the gazebo into a place of fear, bloodshed, and division. Today, we take it back to its original purpose. We take it back to the purpose it served for Tamir: a place of play, sanctuary, and gathering. As a society, we need to ask ourselves how much we value the sacredness of human life. We need to ask how much we value the sacredness of Black life.” – Billy Joe Mills, Rice Family Lawyer
Two shots fired. Two, three, maybe four seconds – the time elapsed from pulling up to the Cudell Recreation Center and this gazebo in Cleveland, until Officer Timothy Loehman fired those two shots – not enough time to accurately ID a real weapon, not enough time to determine whether twelve-year old Tamir Rice, son of Samaria Rice, posed a threat to public safety. Seven – the number of Cleveland Police officers, including Loehman and his partner Frank Gamback, who refused to cooperate with a Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office investigation into Tamir’s death in 2015, enabling Loehman to avoid indictment by a grand jury later that same year.
Two shots, taking the life of Tamir Rice in Cleveland in 2014. Six bullets from a Ferguson MO officer that took the life of eighteen-year old Michael Brown, also in 2014. Ten bullets that took the life of seventeen-year old Jordan Russell Davis in Jacksonville FL, from a self-styled vigilante’s gun in 2012, similar to the one bullet from another vigilante’s gun that killed seventeen-year old Trayvon Martin, in Sanford FL that same year. Sixteen shots fired by Chicago police killing seventeen-year old Lacquan MacDonald in 2014. Twenty bullets fired by police ending the life of twenty-two year old Stephon Clark in Sacramento CA in 2018. Fifty shots fired by a tactical police squad to kill twenty-one year old Fred Hampton and twenty-two year old Mark Clark in Chicago in 1969. One bullet used to kill fourteen-year old Emmett Till, in Money MI in 1955. One bullet, from the gun of an off-duty officer, used to kill twenty-two year old Rekia Boyd in Chicago in 2012.
The arithmetic of devasting and unwarranted death that steals our youth away, Tamir and too many others, hounds memory and conscience, the wholeness of our love, and the trust we hazard in the very premise of justice. What replaces the presence of those taken so wrongly? How to reckon with the demonizing of one’s son or daughter as threatening, violent, and thus expendable, in the eyes of too many in society? What manner of rebuilding, inside the heart and without in the world, could recall the beauty of those who lived as laughing boys and girls before? What must be done to prevent still more mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, neighbors and friends, from undergoing this loss, this trauma, in the future?
The gazebo that we rededicate today is but a stage, a prospect, from which to reckon with, argue over, and jointly heal in the face of such questions. Yet we might take guidance from the architectural role of the gazebo, to provide an elevated and climate prospect from which to regard the bounty of landscape. What would yield an acceptable garden from these bitter seeds? What could restore and redeem a soil watered with blood? What vistas or prospects do justice to those once loved, now lost, never forgotten?
To recover this garden worth tending, viewing and sharing from this prospect, we must commit to tell the truth. The braiding of care and life among crops, trees and flowers, is little different from the threading of love that holds others to us – those present, those gone, those taken. Each of these weavings requires unsparing detail and honesty. This means sharing, when and where possible, what made those boys and girls radiant, unique, and alive. Not only how they laughed and played, but what they were bothered by, what frustrated them. Not only how dearly they were loved, but how dear a gift they knew it was to be capable of loving others, and loving oneself.
Recovering this garden means also means telling broader, harder truths. It means telling the truth that our boys and girls are not extended the same opportunities to grow, to dream – or to make mistakes, like playing with a toy gun – that other children take for granted. It means calling out a society whose books too often are balanced by reducing resources that serve our children and concentrating them among others – whether related to education, mental health, skills training, or social networking and expansive human exchange. It means retraining that same society not to cite introversion, resentment or even anger among our youth as a probable cause for execution, for surely anger outside our community, especially among young white men, routinely affords opportunity to indulge, enable, and even celebrate, without sparking fatal encounters as a rule. Look no further that Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir. Twenty-eight years old at the time of the shooting, Loehmann, despite previously falsifying his application to become a Cleveland police officer was hired back as an officer in Bellaire Ohio in late 2018. The Sheriff supervising that department considered Loehman to be fully exonerated, fully redeemed, and therefore fully qualified to resume wearing a badge and carrying a gun. He would be working there today had not others, led by Samaria Rice, made clear their objections for reasons of personal conscience and human decency. Recovering this garden would mean noting that here in Chicago, only 8% of Black boys enrolled in CPS schools eventually earn college degrees. Black people in nearby Englewood barely survive to 60, while those living in Streeterville live past 90.
Whether Timothy Loehman shoot Tamir Rice on this gazebo in Cleveland on November 22, 2014 because of racism, anxiety exacebated by withheld or faulty dispatcher information, or a constitution incapable to deal with the stress of patrol work is but part of the story. Equally important is what gave rise to a society where again and again, Black people find their wellbeing, their contributions, and their security discounted to the point of dehumanization. In that sense the changes needed are not the targeted reforms of body or dash cams, sensitivity training, or even civilian review boards. So long as this society abides different destinies for Black and white, it will produce police who enforce that difference, too often to the point of death. This is the garden too familiar, one we know too well by now, one we wish to till over and restart, for we care for no more of its strange fruit, with blood on its leaves, and blood at its root.
When the theologian Howard Thurman preached on April 6th, 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he concluded those brutal and terrible events demonstrated that American society, for all its power and pride, was “not yet human.” By gathering today to embrace, to heal, to remember and to resolve to demand better for our children, we call up a measure of that still absent humanity, and bequeath it to this nation. But there is so much more to do – requiring truth, solidarity and courage, as well as memory, creativity and love.
May this stage and prospect look upon a garden that celebrates all our children, living and gone. May that garden remind us, and charge us to remind others, that our children have abundant humanity, inestimable value, everlasting love, and the same right as all children to have their triumphs celebrated, and their missteps and imperfections forgiven. May we tend to that garden in a way that honors Tamir, his mother Samaria, all those who knew and loved Tamir, and all those who love our children as if they are the most important source of value in our shared lives. We must do that as both example and challenge to a society yet to prove its humanity – which it must, if it stands any chance to survive.
Four-Part Collection Immersion Series:
Rebuild has hosted a four-part collections immersion experience to provide opportunities for public dialogue and reflection. Guest participants are encouraged to use resource material shared in these sessions to create public engagements for the planned installation of the Gazebo on the North Lawn of the Stony Island Arts Bank in 2018.
Part 1: Duane Powell on the Frankie Knuckles Records Collection
Sunday, November 12, 2017 | 3:00-4:30pm | Stony Island Arts Bank
Part 2: Romi Crawford on the Edward J. Williams Collection
Sunday, January 14, 2018 | 3:00-5:00pm | Stony Island Arts Bank
Part 3: Adam Green on the Johnson Publishing Archive + Collections
Sunday, February 11, 2018 | 3:00-5:00pm | Stony Island Arts Bank
Part 4: Rebecca Zorach on the Glass Lantern Slides Collection
Sunday, March 11, 2018 | 3:00-5:00pm | Stony Island Arts Bank
Samaria Rice: A Mother Speaks
On July 7, 2017, Samaria Rice joined Theaster Gates for a conversation moderated by Lisa Yun Lee at the Stony Island Arts Bank. Together, they discussed the significance of bringing the Gazebo to Chicago and the importance of making the government uncomfortable to enact change.
Audio presented with the Gazebo materials is excerpted from a recording of Samaria Rice: A Mother Speaks, with additional vocal rendition of Ms. Rice’s demands performed by Yaw Agyeman.
Transcript of Ms. Rice’s Demands, sung by Yaw Agyeman:
open up your door I’ve been waiting outside for a very long time
open up your door I’ve been waiting so long just to sing my song
I want the badges
I want their guns
Pink slips for blood
Pink slips for blood
The government shall recognize
the price of his life
The weight of my tears
The burden of Service
Should be charged
Should see jail
For the murder
Of my boy
If you can’t protect us
If you cannot serve
Give the moneys to the babies
Fund the education of these children
And not your fear
The Fear of Black Bodies in Motion
“As a scholar of the Great Migration, I have spent most of my career trying to understand the multiple meanings of black bodies in motion. If I’ve learned anything from my explorations, it is that a black body in motion is never without consequence.” (Wallace Best, Ph.D., HuffPost | Dec. 4, 2014, updated Feb. 3, 2015)
After Death of Tamir Rice, Pain Lingers
Family and friends of Tamir Rice, 12, struggle with their loss five months after a Cleveland police officer fatally shot the boy as he played with a toy gun in a park. (Brent McDonald and Michael Kirby Smith, New York Times | Apr. 22, 2015 | 7:28)
The Torture of Mothers
Mothers of the “Harlem Six,” a group of young black men wrongly accused and convicted of murder in the mid-1960s, bond together to defend their sons, and to unite a community in the name of justice. Based on actual interviews, this docu-drama re-enacts the mothers’ struggle to protect their sons and make their story known. (Woodie King, Jr., 1980, 52m)
Cornbread, Earl and Me
Set in Chicago, director Joseph Manduke’s classic film tells the story of Cornbread, a local basketball star on the verge of starting college on a scholarship, who is killed by a police officer. The film features surprisingly long sequences of courtroom testimony by a Black boy recounting the shooting of his hero. Keith Wilkes, who plays the title role, was in real life an all-American at UCLA. Based upon Ronald Fair’s novel Hog Butcher. (Joseph Manduke, 1975, 95m)
A Love Letter to Black People
“Whatever you are feeling — fear, anxiety, anger — it is all real and valid. But all is not lost. And while the road ahead will be long and difficult, we are everything we need to build a future that is radically inclusive, just and liberatory for all Black people.” (BYP100, January 2017)