Commentary

05.24.17

Keep Cleveland’s Consent Decree Moving Forward

By

Police car's siren

As the two-year anniversary of Cleveland’s second consent decree approaches, many residents are worried that the Cleveland Division of Police will adopt Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “law and order” attitude. Mr. Sessions champions loosening restrictions on police. That “law and order” attitude will likely only be used against civilians and not the law enforcement officers who have been tasked to protect them. After all, 963 people across the United States were killed by police officers in 2016, with another 345 so far in 2017.

The CDP is emblematic of our nation’s excessive use of deadly force against civilians. For example, the Department of Justice investigated CDP in 2002 for excessive force, racial profiling, and issues related to confining suspects. The investigation led the CDP to enter into its first voluntary agreement with the DOJ to change their practices and institute reforms that would protect civilians’ constitutional rights.

In 2004, Cleveland and the DOJ concluded that they had met many of the conditions of the 2002 consent decree and terminated the agreement. The 2005 killing of Brandon McCloud followed the termination of the first consent decree, reportedly after problems had been “fixed” in the department. In 2012, CDP officers killed two unarmed African-American residents, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Following a police chase that ended at East Cleveland’s Heritage Middle School, police fired dozens of bullets into their car. More than 100 police officers – including one third of on-duty CDP officers – joined the pursuit. Thirteen officers fired 137 shots, striking Russell and Williams over 20 times each, despite neither victim being armed.

CDP has engaged in unnecessary violence, hitting individuals over the head with their guns, firing their weapons at individuals who posed no harm, and using excessive force against people suffering from mental illness.

That egregious homicide gained national media attention, calling into question officers’ targeting of Russell and Williams for a minor traffic stop. Only officer Michael Brelo was indicted, on two counts of voluntary manslaughter. He was later found not guilty, but he and five other officers were terminated from the department. This event prompted the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the deaths of Russell and Williams and a new review of the CDP’s use of force and policing practices.

The conclusion of the investigation confirmed what residents had known for years:

The CDP has engaged in unnecessary violence, hitting individuals over the head with their guns, firing their weapons at individuals who posed no harm, and using excessive force against people suffering from mental illness.

Before the DOJ delivered its findings, an officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in front of Cudell Recreation Center. Neither the officer nor his partner administered any first aid after firing at the boy, and neither has been charged for the murder of Rice.

The killings of Russell, Williams and Rice were highly visible examples of the pattern of abuse by Cleveland and the CDP. Moves toward reform came with the consent decree in 2015, reiterating many themes from its 2002 predecessor. The decree seeks to protect Cleveland residents from excessive force and gross violations of constitutional rights.

We need the CDP and its leadership to commit to protecting civilians and abiding by the 2015 consent decree, not delaying its reforms. Our rights are not an inconvenience, and our lives are not a matter for partisan politics.

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