Earlier this year, we reported about Samaria Rice and criticisms she had for Tamika Mallory and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement who she accused of profiting off of Black death. She said because of people like Mallory and Benjamin Crump, people don’t take their lives seriously and they have hindered their chances of receiving justice.
Later, with Lisa Simpson, the mother of Richard Risher, Rice released a list of demands she has for members of the Black Lives Matter leadership, Mallory’s Until Freedom organization and others, including attorneys Crump and Lee Merritt. In addition to not speaking their sons’ names, the two women asked that financial assistance be donated to the Tamir Rice Foundation.
Now, in a recent interview with Imani Perry for The Cut, Rice opened up about her upbringing, her background, the fact that she comes from the hood and how she’s been handling being thrust to the forefront of a movement she no longer feels accurately represents her or her interests.
In the interview, Rice spoke about her upbringing and her own personal run-ins with the police before she became a mother.
“I didn’t have no mother or father to guide me,” she says. She was homeless and relied on small-time hustling, she adds, mostly petty theft. “I come from a very hard-knock life, a rough life.” Without the protection of parents, she found herself having frequent interactions with law enforcement — eventually pleading guilty to assault and going to jail for dealing marijuana. But even then, she didn’t harbor ill will toward the police. Officers sometimes spoke nastily to her, sure, but Rice — like most Black folks — saw them simply as an agency to be carefully navigated in order to stay alive and afloat.
Rice had her first child, a daughter named Tasheona, when she was 18-years-old. Then, three years later, a son Tavon. Later, another daughter Tajai and then her son Tamir. She said Tamir was born at a difficult time in her life when she was in the midst of leaving a violent relationship with his father.
“I was a product of my environment. You might need something for your kids and take it. I was on assistance. I didn’t really have a job. I lived in the streets. I hung around a lot of gangsters and hustlers. But I wanted something different for my children.”
She gave birth to Tamir while living in a shelter.
“Tamir was very attached to me,” she says. “We were very, very close. All he really knew was his mom. I had a bad pregnancy with him. I was coming out of a domestic-violence relationship … I was just getting back on my feet when I had him. I was able to obtain an apartment and a job and establish myself and get all my kids back. Sometimes the hospital don’t tell you — nobody tells you — just ’cause you had your child don’t mean it’s yours. You have to go to court and file a motion to get legal custody of your own child, the one that you birthed.”
After she got her children back, she worked to create a life for them that was better than what she’d experienced growing up.
But her plans to protect and provide for her children were thwarted the day her son Tamir was killed. She recounted that day in her interview with Perry.
“I do not know how I’m able to get out of my bed every day. She was sitting on the couch watching television. When the family was alerted that Tamir had been shot, her eldest jumped up and ran to the center. When Rice arrived, she says, “my 14-year-old daughter was screaming in the back of a police car and then they had my 16-year-old surrounded by eight police officers. And they told me to calm down or they was gon’ put me in the back of the police car,” she continues. “And they also gave me an ultimatum to stay at the scene of the crime or go with my 12-year-old son in the ambulance.” One child had been shot; the other two were under the control of the people who shot him. As a mother charged with protecting all three, she was at a terrible crossroads. She had to leave two behind to ride up front in the passenger seat of the ambulance, knowing Tamir was in the back surrounded by the people who had killed him.
In the aftermath of her son’s death, Rice was thrust into a spotlight she wasn’t entirely prepared for.
“A lot of us parents don’t know what to say or how we should be acting. There is a certain way you have to go in front of the media to let them know that you want justice for your baby.”
When Rice first began working with attorneys, she was anxious about having to speak publicly.
“You can see I look like a deer in headlights,” she says of early interviews. She was angry, but she had been told she wasn’t supposed to show her rage. She felt constrained and underinformed, and she didn’t want the organizers and lawyers to “handle everything.” She wanted to be involved in strategy, court filings, and decision-making… she felt her intelligence was being insulted. At times, she lashed out; at other times, she retreated. “You can lose your mind in a situation like this,” she tells me. “Especially with my son being global.”
In addition to the list of demands she released with Risher, Rice also suggested that the leaders she named should have put more time into educating the parents who lost children instead of rushing to speak for them.
“They should not be standing on the front line like this was they child,” she says. “You supposed to be uplifting the family, the community, teaching us how to love on each other, not bickering and fighting about who gon’ get the next case or who gon’ be on TV next. It’s a mess.”
Rice pointed to book and movie deals and asked these leaders and Lil Baby’s Grammy performance and asked, “What was you doing?”
Again, she addressed Mallory specially.
“I heard her say this is a job. Who hired you? Who sent you? Are you showing up as an activist or an entertainer?”
As we reported earlier, Tamika Mallory addressed Rice’s initial comments in her podcast.
In response to this new story, in a statement to MadameNoire, Mallory said:
“As a social justice advocate and movement strategist I remain committed to the fight against injustice and oppression that plagues and suffocates communities of color, particularly Black communities, worldwide. I am deeply grateful for the families who champion and believe in Until Freedom’s mission and are aligned with our organization’s principles and values…”
In addition to her criticism, Rice offered suggestions about what she would like to see movement leaders do going forward.
“All of the families should be getting therapy, and all of them should be getting the tools to speak for themselves, not have people speak for them…
I think they can make things right with the community and try to show the community that they are working and not just talking … you got these corporate people listening to you like you doing the work, and you not doing the work if you not in these streets.”
In her interview with Perry, Rice also explained that she’s in the process of reopening Tamir’s case.
“My kids and I can have some bit of peace, peace of mind. My son’s human rights were violated. Just like George Floyd as well as lots of other families. And that’s what America needs to make right, the human-rights aspect of this. The whole thing needs to be dismantled. Or they could split the country up and put us on half.
You can read Samaria’s full interview with The Cut, here.