In November 2014, a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun outside of a recreational center in Cleveland, Ohio. He was fatally shot by police that saw him pull the pellet gun from his waist band despite the 911 caller saying that the gun was “probably fake” and that the boy playing with it was “probably a juvenile.”
One of the officers who responded to the call opened fire seconds after arriving at the park.
In late December, the officers involved in the case were not indicted. The decision not to indict the officers sparked outrage among those who are beyond frustrated with the constant police killings of unarmed African Americans.
Shortly after the decision became public, the hashtag #NoJusticeNoLeBron began trending on Twitter. It received national attention almost overnight and peaked public curiosity with the Tamir Rice case and its connection with Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player LeBron James.
I had the chance to speak with Tariq Touré, an activist and a writer, who launched the hashtag #NoJusticeNoLeBron, and he gave me invaluable insight into the campaign and his views on activism.
Touré explained that Rice’s family had a child taken from them by the very people that should have been protecting him. When he spoke of the case’s injustice, he painted the haunting picture in my mind of the phone call Rice’s family received to inform them of his murder.
He told me that Rice’s family “has been going through an exodus for an entire year,” and that “the family is still mourning and grieving and, up until this point, they have received no form of justice.”
He told me that these types of injustices were not isolated incidents — and as for his hometown of Baltimore, “It is one of the many places that police killed African Americans exclusively this year. Every 28 hours an African American is killed by police and 60 percent of those people are unarmed. You begin to realize that things are connected.”
He made it clear that “we are fighting police brutality on a national level.”
#NoJusticeNoLeBron was inspired by Missouri sports teams who Touré felt were using their bodies as power, as a voice. “One thing that is extremely powerful,” he explained, “is that university athletes would form coalitions to bring light to certain issues.
In Ferguson, the police department was generating revenue almost exclusively off of racism. So when the University of Missouri, or Mizzou, didn’t play, people asked why.” He accurately described the reason for this by saying, “Most of the time, people don’t know anything is wrong until something disrupts the status quo.”
Touré explained to me that as an African American, “seven times out of 10, your way out is your body and culture. You have to use your physical prowess as a commodity,” and that it is the responsibility of those who achieve that to help those who cannot.
He said, “Where I’m from, if you make it to 25, you ‘made it out.’ That shouldn’t be normal. We have this idea that ‘rags to riches’ is okay; that shouldn’t be normal either.”
He explained that, for the most part, young African Americans don’t have many opportunities to succeed that do not involve using either their bodies or their culture. This, Touré explained, leaves them little to no power in one sense — “but in culture, we rule the world.” He illustrated this by saying that an average person would never be able to name the top 3 engineers but they could easily name the starting lineup for a basketball team (many of whom are African Americans).
Touré’s campaign was not only meant to bring awareness and a form of justice to the Tamir Rice case, but also to empower black athletes. “It’s important we let these athletes know the power they have,” he said.
Touré chose Twitter because he felt that it would be the most successful platform for the campaign saying, “Twitter, for whatever reason, has a certain effect on public thought.”
He chose LeBron James because, “this happened in LeBron James’ backyard. Why not highlight him?”
As a recognized and highly respected figure, Touré hoped that James taking action, specifically sitting out for a game, would bring the necessary awareness to the Tamir Rice case and police brutality in general.
He described such an action as one that would “let the American people and the world know that we cannot continue normally while this happens. We try to normalize things; we try to say everything is okay. We have to think… this could be my child.”
He described such a gesture as one that is imperative in brining about change in a democracy.
Thus far, there has been no response from LeBron James — to which Touré says, “My only thought is it has so much to do with the weight of the case, that he’s thinking of an appropriate response.”
Tamir Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, stated that “it’s quite sad that LeBron hasn’t spoken out about my son.”
However, Touré says that if James, or any other prominent athlete were to respond to the case, to be willing to put the pressure on the authorities to take the side of justice, “that will be one of the most remarkable moments of activism by an athlete in this era.”
Touré hopes that the conversations that stem from #NoJusticeNoLeBron will be about the social power of athletes. “Athletes are more than just a body,” Tourè said, “They are a people who can shake narratives, people who can change things.”
On what he would change if he could do it again, Touré said that he wished he would have spoken with the family of Tamir Rice before launching the campaign. He described coordinated actions as more “effective and holistic.”
As for the role of Muslims in the Black Lives Matter movement, Touré said, “If [Muslims] are truly walking in the light of Mohammad (PBUH), we need to ask ourselves, ‘What would he be doing? Chilling?’”
He alluded to an Islamic figure that he looks up to, Imam Suhaib Webb, and what Webb calls dawah moments, saying “this is a 500-year-old ‘dawah moment.”
He explained that he sees our purpose as worshippers is to not be concerned with solely our own growth but with helping those around us grow and become self determined.
“A true believer should be at the forefront of justice.”