Tuesday, February 12, 2013
McGinty shouldn't swallow DeWine bait; Vigil tonight
Prosecutor must steer clear of DeWine's editorial
“I … knew from my own experience about how ingrown, defensive and isolated the [Cleveland police] department had become. And I knew that it had to become a public issue. …
“The fact is, though, that our police department happened to be a federation of fellows, some good, some bad, most conservative, some reactionary, but all almost totally lacking in the training in human relations that some departments have at least made a beginning to provide. … The most obvious failure of the police was in their dealing with the black community. … All the police knew that few policemen faced charges or an appearance before the grand jury for shooting a black man while on duty.” *
Need I go on? These words were written almost a quarter century ago about the state of the Cleveland Police Department nearly a half-century ago. The man who wrote them knew what he was talking about: he had been a probation officer, a defense attorney, and a prosecutor. He had also been in position to appoint the city’s police chief and its safety director. His name was Carl Burton Stokes.
So let’s be clear. Notwithstanding claims of whitewash, Attorney General Mike DeWine was correct when he concluded there was “systemic failure” by the Cleveland Police Department on Nov. 29. That critique, though obvious, was an editorial judgment he offered based on his investigation. Given his explicit intent not to assign individual culpability, it’s fair to ask whether there was a political motive to his denouncing by implication the safety administration of Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson?
Were DeWine’s editorial comments intended to displace attention from the individual actions of individual police officers who are paid, and hopefully trained, to be at their most professional precisely when the stakes are highest?
Would DeWine excuse those American troops at Abu Ghraib from individual moral or legal culpability on the grounds that they were insufficiently trained? Would he have denounced the generals instead for failing to properly train our men and women to handle stress in combat?
I would hesitate to think that the State’s highest law enforcement official was inclined in any way to lend the prestige of his office to any effort to influence public opinion before a grand jury had received this case and before a jury of the officers’ peers hears evidence concerning any criminal charges that may result from grand jury proceedings.
To that extent I am concerned about media reports that County Prosecutor Tim McGinty will present the A.G.’s report to the grand jury. I believe that residents of this community who have put their faith and trust in McGinty to seek justice in the matters brought to his office, have a right to expect that he will use the DeWine report for its material value in preparing the case[s] he presents to the grand jury. He should not just turn the report over to the grand jury.
I wrote back in December that the county prosecutor is the linchpin in the ultimate arc of this case. More than any other public official — the attorney general, the mayor, chief of police or safety director — McGinty will determine whether this case bends towards the arc of justice. The old saying — that a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich — has core elements of truth.
McGinty’s office has been relatively quiet in the aftermath of the Nov. 29 tragedy. He has yet to experience the scrutiny and heat that Mayor Jackson, Police Chief Mike McGrath, and DeWine have incurred. We see that as a good thing. But his time is surely coming. Let us hope he recognizes when the taking of lives is unwarranted and that each of us is accountable even where, and perhaps especially when the system fails to function.
Candlelight vigil tonight at Heritage Middle School
Area civil rights groups will hold a candlelight vigil at 6PM tonight in the parking lot at Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland, where the 25-minute police pursuit of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams on Nov. 29 ended in their deaths from a 137-bullet outburst by thirteen of the more than sixty police vehicles and 100+ officers involved in the chase of the apparently unarmed victims.
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