Good police practices, thorough training, carefully crafted policies, appropriate allocation of resources, and strong political and professional leadership can ensure public safety and prevent abuses in encounters between police officers and citizens.
What's Happening in Ohio
The 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and subsequent acquittal of the George Zimmerman, the man responsible for Martin’s death, signaled the beginning of an awakening in America that has been long overdue.
The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the post death de-humanization of Martin. The movement, unofficially named for the hashtag “#blacklivesmatter” on social media, calls for the affirmation all black lives. It demands an end to police practices of profiling, excessive use of force, and militarization, as well as pushes for criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration.
As the Black Lives Matter movement began picking up speed, the summer of 2014 marked high profile killings of black people and, ironically, the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 1964 campaign to register African-Americans voters in Mississippi.
In late July 2014, Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, was choked to death by a white police officer on a city sidewalk. Garner told the police he couldn’t breathe 11 times before he died.
In early August 2014, two men were killed by police. The first, John Crawford of Beavercreek, Ohio, was shot on sight by a white police officer in a Wal-Mart store as he walked with a toy gun he picked up from a store shelf. His last words, “It’s not real.”
Next, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the middle of the street. Community outrage grew from the killing. Ferguson police responded to community concerns over abuse of force with military tanks and high powered weapons. For the first time the militarization of American police was in full view for the world to see.
The grand juries in the Garner, Crawford, and Brown cases did not indict the officers involved in their deaths. Particularly, the lack of indictments in the Garner and Brown cases fueled protests nationally.
Other Ohioans—all from Cleveland—have died at the hands of police. The November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were shot 137 times by police officers, prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. The DOJ issued its findings in December 2014.
In November 2014, Tanisha Anderson, who was experiencing a medical crisis, was killed by Cleveland police officers who used a “takedown move” as her family watch on. The week following Anderson’s death, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by a Cleveland police officer within seconds of approaching him as a played at a recreation center with a toy gun.
The excessive use of force by police officers not only is a national problem, but very much an Ohio problem. At this time, conversations are continuing on improving police-community relations as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Click here for more information on the report
A new ACLU report shows that police departments across the country are expanding their use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR’s) to track the location of American drivers. Unfortunately, few of these departments have any meaningful rules in place to ensure transparency, or protect the privacy of drivers.
When it comes to ALPR guidelines, Ohio is a mixed bag. The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) has a good policy, one that requires all license plate records to be deleted immediately if they do not raise any flags. It further specifies that data cannot be collected, stored, or shared for the purpose of data mining. However, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office retains data for 90 days, and public records have not been collected from many other Ohio agencies, making their ALPR policies a mystery.
The OSHP’s ALPR policy proves that law enforcement agencies can still do their jobs while protecting the privacy of innocent people. Ultimately, Ohio needs state legislation that would create similar standards for all law enforcement agencies.
Click here for more information on ALPR’s.
Less than a decade after concluding their last Cleveland police probe, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that they will return to the city to conduct a new investigation.
The ACLU of Ohio requested this federal investigation after a 2012 incident in which dozens of police cars participated in a three-city police chase. The chase ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds and killing two unarmed suspects.
DOJ last investigated the Cleveland Police Department in 2000, responding to complaints that city police were routinely violating the constitutional rights of citizens. When this investigation finally closed in 2004, it had uncovered numerous problems and extracted a promise from the department to make changes. Sadly, by the end of the next year, five more police suspects had already died under questionable circumstances.
The problems have continued unabated into this decade. Viewed as a timeline, a sad pattern emerges: a spiral of policy violations, violence, and eventually blood in the streets.
This pattern must be addressed.
The Cleveland Police Department has recently been criticized for several officers’ prolific use of non-deadly force and for failing to review incident reports fully. This criticism after two officers were charged with assault for beating a man during an arrest.
In addition, the ACLU of Ohio is concerned the Cleveland Police Department may employ some racially biases policing methods. A June 2011 report, “Overcharging, Overspending, Overlooking: Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs“, describes the targeting of African American communities for patrols and sweeps, resulting in disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration for people of color.
The ACLU of Ohio also represented two Clevelanders who were victims of racially biased policing in July 2010 in City of Cleveland v. Alvin Williams and City of Cleveland v. Chanel Christian. As a result of the incident, the Mayor agreed to permit federal mediators to provide training to business owners and police to avoid any similar incidents.
Police departments around the state have begun to use web sites like Facebook and MySpace to monitor people’s online profiles and identify individuals whom they believe engage in illegal activities.
Unfortunately, many innocent individuals are wrongfully identified as criminals because police have relied only on flawed profiling techniques rather than generating clear evidence that the person is engaged in illegal activity
The Ohio General Assembly is considering Senate Bill 98, which would allow local police to enforce immigration laws. The ACLU of Ohio opposes such efforts because they encourage racial profiling and causes resources to be diverted from dealing with local crime. More information is available on our Immigrant Rights page.