Cleveland community discussion offers a pillar of hope for African Americans


Photo: Ronnie Holman

On November 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio at the Cudell Recreation Center. The death of young Tamir has hit headlines across the country as he is the youngest of the latest cop killings of Black males.

Ferguson, Missouri failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. New York refused to indict a Stanton Island police officer after he appeared to have choked Eric Garner to death on July 17, 2014. As a result, this has caused a slew of protests across the country and looting in Ferguson.

On Monday, December 8, 2014, Dr. R.A. Vernon and the “Word” Church in Cleveland, Ohio hosted a roundtable discussion with local clergy and elected officials. Cleveland Police Chief, Calvin Williams was the only officer on the panel and stood firmly by the officer’s decision to shot and kill Tamir Rice.

“It’s not Tamir Rice’s fault he’s dead, but it’s also not the fault of that officer,” Williams said. “There are a lot of things that happened prior that people don’t know about which led to that officer making that decision.”

As Williams continued to speak, the massive crowd began to become inpatient with the Police Chief. They groaned and some even booed in obvious disagreement with his statements. Gerald Thompson, a residence of nearby Akron, who grew up on the Eastside of Cleveland was in attendance and he felt the emotional roller coaster.

“My emotions throughout the entire roundtable discussion were up and down,” Thompson said. “I felt completely down with most responses by the Chief when he addressed the culture of the Cleveland Police Department.”

Protest increases visibility of a cause and demonstrates power. Therefore, the attempt to find a resolution was clear. However, Thompson believes the roundtable discussion may not have found a resolution.

“I heard one resolution and that was the system itself needs to be held accountable for these types of situations,” Thompson said. “More than just the faces of the police and politicians need to be held accountable.”

According to The New York Times, the Justice Department announced that a nearly two-year civil rights investigation into the Cleveland Police Department found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” that resulted in dangerous and reckless behavior by officers, pointing out the kinds of problems that have angered Black residents here and set off demonstrations across the country in recent weeks.

These findings go back to the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2012. 13 Cleveland police officers fired 137 shots, but only 6 were charged in that case. An officer thought Russell and Williams fired shots from their vehicle, yet they both were found unarmed.

Another panelist, Dr. William Myers of Ashland Theological Seminary, believes officers should get more involved with the community to get to know people. He felt sending officers to churches and recreation centers will bridge the gap between the community and police officers.

“Send a couple police officers to our churches every week so we can get to know them and they can get to know us,” Myers said. “There is a gap in how we are treated.”

Certain police officers are members at local churches and know people within their communities. An African-American Cleveland police officer for over 15 years, who wished to be anonymous, said Tamir Rice’s death could have been prevented. The officer feels both the driver and the passenger should have used a more suitable tactic.

“The officer should have never pulled that close to Tamir and put him and his partner in harms way,” the officer said. “If he had pulled far enough away he could have given verbal commands over the PA.”

Unfortunately, some school-aged children are carrying guns and terrorizing their neighborhoods. Delilah Stedmire, a mother of three and Cleveland resident, received a call regarding her children being robbed. Her two youngest kids, ages 11 and 14, were robbed at gunpoint by 12-year-old kids. Stedmire believes Tamir Rice didn’t deserve to lose his life nor any other kid, even though she thinks that certain children are dangerous.

“The police were wrong for being so aggressive and Tamir was old enough to know better, but his death was not justified,” Stedmire said. “The 12 year olds that robbed my babies were dangerous and made a conscious decision because they had real guns.”

Frank Jackson, who has been the Mayor of Cleveland since 2006, was on the panel as well and answered some tough questions. Understandably, he was a bit emotional when talking about young citizens losing their lives in the city of Cleveland.

“At the end of the day, I am as hurt as anyone,” Jackson said. “The death of any child under any circumstances particularly by those who are responsible for protecting them–you cannot accept or justify that.”

Many African Americans may wonder, “Where do we go from here,” but many may decide to choose their own path. Some may consider this to be the modern day civil rights movement. However, one fact remains the same, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice all lost their lives and as of yet, no convictions have been made.

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