by Chuck Hoven
Following a 58-page report by the United States Department of Justice on excessive use of force by the Cleveland Police Department, Cleveland City Council’s Safety Committee initiated a series of Listening Tours. Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said the listening sessions were designed to “come to the neighborhoods and listen to what the citizens of Cleveland have to say. The end game is how do we use the Department of Justice findings to get better.”
Residents attending the City Council Safety Committee’s Listening Tour at La Sagrada Familia Catholic Church on December 30th bared their hearts and souls to City Council members in hopes of engendering some changes in the relationship between the Cleveland Police and the Community. Over forty people got up to testify about their personal encounters with the police department, their fears about what will happen when they call police for help, and their ideas to help improve relations between police and the community.
Commenting on the testimony of residents following the meeting, Rev. Bob Begin, recently retired from St. Colman Parish, said ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much pain expressed at a community meeting in Cleveland.”
Particularly moving was the testimony of a woman who said her son was killed three and a half years ago by Cleveland Police officers who crossed the line into Parma and waited for her son outside his home in order to rough him up. They ended up shooting him. She said, despite an eleven hundred-page report from internal affairs that recommended one of the officers involved should be terminated from his job, nothing has happened. She reported that the officers involved are still on the force in Cleveland. “They got away with murder. They murdered my son. They didn’t get indicted,” she said.
One woman, who referred to herself as a Christian Community Activist referred to a litany of issues – including woman being ignored when they report rape to the police, and officers disobeying state law when involving more that two cars in a high-speed chase. She said, “I don’t want to see another person die as a result of violations of a person’s human and legal rights” She then urged Cleveland City Council members to “listen with your hearts to what is being said here. These are painful things. Tamir Rice’s mother–she expected 12-year-old Tamir to come home. If you ask yourself: What Would Jesus Do? Jesus loves people. He would not let this happen. These are horrible things – someone to die and bleed out.”
Councilman Matt Zone, the Chair of the Safety Committee, responded to the heartfelt plea by the woman saying, “My colleagues care, you will see that in action after the 1st of the year.”
A Ward 15 resident said she was taught “to call the cops if there was a problem.” She said young people now are afraid to call the police. If they have a problem, they don’t believe the police will do anything about it. She talked about being hassled by police when she has called them for help, “I’m scared to call the police. I can’t imagine how kids feel.” The woman called for more programs to keep kids off the street.
Cleveland Tenants Organization Executive Director Angela Shuckahosee appealed to Cleveland City Council for reform that will help her do her job. She said, “It doesn’t matter if I stabilize someone’s housing situation, if they are afraid if they call the police something is going to happen to them.”
Another woman reported that she is worried about her young African American child having an encounter with police that goes wrong. She said she is so worried that she now is considering moving out of the City of Cleveland.
Several mental health consumers or their family members spoke out about their fears in calling police. A Ward 14 woman said she suffers from mental illness and said her concern is “If I’m having a crisis situation and police are called – who shows up?” She said if she is unlucky and the wrong officer shows up she is worried “I’m getting treated the same as Tanisha Anderson.”
A white woman, who said she has an African American son who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Health issues, spoke of a positive experience when she recently called the police. She said the police responded quickly, listened and helped to de-escalate the situation. She said she is grateful for her positive experience with the police and “would like to have that kind of experience for everyone in the community.” She said she now is worried that when she calls police what could happen if the wrong officer responds.
Several people offered City Council suggestions. A Ward 15 resident called for increased training of police officers and better hiring procedures. She cited as a prime example the hiring of the police officer that shot Tamir Rice – an officer whose former employer said should not be a cop. She urged the City of Cleveland to accept the Department of Justice Report. She also said that there has to be accountability. She said all of Cleveland has seen the video of the Tamir Rice shooting. She said, “There is no doubt that the two officers need to be indicted. Tamir Rice’s family must have their day in court. I would like to see what you guys (City Council members) can do to make sure it happens,” she said.
Another Ward 15 resident said she felt people of the city of Cleveland were at the mercy of the Council and Administration to enact needed reforms. She asked that in the next 3 or 4 days, Cleveland City Council present ways “citizens can be meaningfully involved in making reforms – reforms that people in the community want.”
Citing statistics on the Citizen Review Board, one Ward 15 resident said that 83% of the complaints of police misconduct were not thoroughly investigated, not investigated in a timely manner and those filing the complaints were not informed of the results. The resident urged City Council members to familiarize themselves with the work of Cleveland State University Urban Studies Professor Ronnie Dunn on racial inequality in the criminal justice system in Cleveland. Referring to the issue of racial disparity in the number of arrests per capita, the resident said, “it is a very serious issue and it needs to be addressed.”
Ward 14 resident Rick Nagin said things would not change until police officers are held accountable for their actions. He asked that those present sign a petition to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty file charges against the two police officers – Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann – involved in the shooting of Tamir Rice.
A Ward 15 resident said she was shocked to learn the Department of Justice report on the Cleveland Police Department did not address the issue of race. She said she is in favor of the effort by the Collaborative for a Fair Safe and Just Cleveland to have citizens instrumental in forming the consent decree between the City of Cleveland and the Department of Justice.
A Ward 14 resident called for bringing back the neighborhood based Police substations. He said problems in the neighborhood have a pretty simple fix: “Officer Friendly – we don’t have that any more. No kind of officers we can even remotely call a friend.” He also called for officers to live in the community. He said a common attitude of police officers that are not from the community is that “the poor, lower middle class and minorities are the enemy. That mentality has to go.”
The resident said police officers often ask that residents call police if they see something wrong happen. He asked that officers reciprocate and that when they see another officer doing wrong they “drop a dime on these fellow officers.”
That concern was echoed by a resident who said, “Silence is acceptance. If there are good cops, why are they not saying something?”
A representative of the Carl Stokes Brigade said he had heard a phrase to describe the attitude of police, when they give orders “Comply or Die.” Speaking of this mentality, he said, “If that is truly the way they think – that is why you have a problem.” He talked about people being beaten or kicked after they are already cuffed. He said this is particularly an issue for black males citing a statistic that in encounters with police “Black males are 21 times more likely to be killed than their white counterparts.”
Another west side resident said after a recent shooting in her neighborhood, she attended a block club meeting hoping to learn from the community policing officer what had happened. She was surprised to learn “the police officer didn’t know anything about the gun shot in our neighborhood.” She said she called the commander and learned that community involvement police officers are not part of roll call. She called for an end to this practice. She said if there is a shooting in the neighborhood “Shouldn’t Community Involvement Police be the first to know?”
Other suggestions included looking at the Cincinnati agreement with the Department of Justice as a model for involving people in the process of forming the consent decree in Cleveland, appointing a Civilian Review Board more representative of the community, and appointing a youth delegate to sit on the Civilian Review Board.
A Ward 15 resident made four suggestions to Cleveland City Council: 1) a diverse board of residents from each Police District be involved in the hiring of new police officers and that they have the last say in the hiring process and make sure that the right questions are asked of applicants. 2) Lie detectors should be a part of the screening process for officers. 3) Psychological screening be involved in the selection of police officers. 4). Police Substations be brought back so police will be part of the community.