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ITHACA, N.Y. — A local chapter of a nationwide organization for racial justice gathered at the Ithaca Commons playground on late Sunday afternoon to mark the one year anniversary of the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and to express their contempt for the prosecutor in charge of the case.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network of groups and individuals who seek to organize “White people for racial justice.” SURJ Ithaca, which began in June of this year, is one of over 80 local chapters and affiliates of SURJ. On Sunday, approximately 40 people, majority of whom were white, attended the gathering.
Kate Cardona, one of the leaders of SURJ Ithaca, said the event was part of a national gathering to remember Tamir Rice and to bring light onto racism in the country.
“Our goal was to hold space for people remember Tamir Rice and pause to honor his life,” she said. “It was also an opportunity to talk to white families about structural racism, police violence against black and brown children and to call attention to the fact that not all children in our country have the safety and protection they deserve.”
Cardona said the playground was chosen as the gathering site because Rice on a playground when he was shot.
Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old teenager, was shot by a white Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann on Nov. 22, 2014. Rice was playing with an Airsoft replica gun in a city park.
The dispatcher who informed officers Loehmann and his partner Frank Garmback did not mention that the gun may be fake.
According to experts who reviewed the surveillance camera footage, when the officers arrived in a police cruiser within feet of Rice, he reached toward his waistband. Loehmann, a first-year officer, reacted by firing two shots. Rice was struck once in the abdomen and died early next day.
The shooting gained national attention as an incident of police brutality against black people and racism. SURJ Ithaca activists are upset that neither officers Loehmann nor Garmback have been charged even though it has been a year since the incident. Furthermore, the activists have also criticized Cuyahoga County (within which Cleveland is located) Prosecutor Timothy McGinty for playing a crucial role in preventing those officers from being charged.
SURJ Ithaca members held up signs that said “Black Lives Matter”, “Justice for Tamir Rice” and “Ithaca Demands Justice McGinty Step Down”. They also demanded that the two officers involved get arrested immediately.
In addition, members handed out papers that had prosecutor McGinty’s phone number with a sample script that asked him to step down from the case and assign a special prosecutor to continue the grand jury proceedings.
Leon Miller-Out, who attended the gathering with his two daughters, said he thinks the officer was wrong to shoot Rice and that there’s a bigger problem of black people being portrayed as dangerous in society.
“Everybody in our society are taught to be afraid of black people and black males in general so I think that’s what leads to a lot of police violence. They see black people as more dangerous than they are,” he said. “This is a 12-year-old kid with a toy gun. It was a gun that looked too real and he maybe shouldn’t have been pointing it at people, but he didn’t deserve to get shot.”
Miller-Out also criticized McGinty and the grand jury involved in the case.
“The grand jury system gives the prosecutor way too much discretion in the case. It should be tried in a public trial,” he said. “I don’t want to come down hard on the police, but it’s a problem because police officers work with prosecutors all the time.”
Kate Cardona said it is important for white people to get involved in equality work because she believes the effects of racial injustice isn’t limited only to people of color.
“I think white people sometimes feel like we’re removed from issues of racial injustice but our world is filled with people of color,” she said. “None of us are free until all of us are free. White people have a stake in doing racial work and a role to play in ending white supremacy.”
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