by Chuck Hoven. (Plain Press, January 2015) Over seventy people attended the December 20th meeting of the Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland. The group’s agenda includes working on a set of demands to address excessive use of force by Cleveland police, and working to make sure citizens are stakeholders in a long-term solution to address the systemic problems found in the Cleveland Division of Police.
At the meeting, the Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland broke into committees to work on critical areas of concern such as Social Justice, Community Policing and designing a Civilian Review Board with some teeth.
The Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland began meeting two years ago to seek justice in the aftermath the death of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were killed when police fired 137 bullets into their vehicle after an extended chase. Russell and Williams were unarmed.
The deaths of Russell and Williams in 2012 were followed by a report by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine that indicated there were systemic problems in the Cleveland Police Department that contributed to their deaths. Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration refused to embrace the report insisting the problems were with individual officers not following orders and procedures. The United States Department of Justice also began to look into the Cleveland Division of Police.
On December 4th, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio issued a 58-page report titled Investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police. The report in the form of a letter to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson concluded, “We have reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices – including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community—contribute to the use of unreasonable force.”
On November 22nd, less than two weeks prior to the release of the Department of Justice Report, twelve year old Tamir Rice, a sixth grade student at Marion Seltzer School, was shot and killed by a Cleveland Police Officer while playing with a toy gun in the Cudell Recreation Center playground. Just ten days prior to the death of Tamir Rice, the family of Tanisha Anderson, watched her go limp and die as a police officer slammed her to the pavement. The family had called police for assistance in taking Anderson to the hospital for a mental health emergency.
The deaths of Rice and Anderson have added urgency to the effort to reform the Cleveland Police Department and seek justice for victims of police violence. The City of Cleveland has agreed in principle to enter into a consent decree with the United States Justice Department, which will be supervised by an independent monitor that reports to a federal judge.
The Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland has gained additional allies as evidence mounts of the systemic problems in the Cleveland Division of Police. Other social justice organizations in Cleveland such as the Task Force for Community Mobilization, Peace in the Hood, the Carl Stokes Brigade, the New Abolitionist Association, the League to Abolish War, and the Metanoia Project had representatives in attendance as working members of the Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland’s committees.
Professor Rhonda Williams, the director of the Case Western Reserve University Social Justice Institute, urged members of the collaborative not only to think about standing up for the community interest now, but also to consider what to do after community’s demands have been met.
Williams urged collaborative members to demand that independent, collaborative stakeholders, that are representative of diverse parts of the Cleveland community, be included as partners in the consent decree. She urged the Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland to “demand standing so we have our people at the table when implementation takes place.”
Editor’s Note: The next meeting of the Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland will be on Saturday, January 24th at 1 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, 1962 Stokes Blvd.