Friday, February 15, 2013

Crowd fires questions at Cleveland Heights gun debate panel

Panelists at Cleveland Heights Democratic Club program on gun control [L-R]:
Jeffrey Bendix, Tom Schmida, Jeffrey Robertson, Susanna O'Neil and Jim Reese

Last night I attended a panel discussion that was part of the national conversation we are having about gun control and the Second Amendment. I didn’t take any notes because I didn’t go expecting to write about the event. So of course I was fascinated by much of what people said and wished that I had worn my reporting hat. So this post is more impression than careful reporting. But I can announce that the event was videotaped by the redoubtable Richard Stewart of Digizoom Media and should be posted in the near future. I’ll let you know when.

The panel was good. Cleveland Hts. Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson; the city’s acting city manager, Susanna Niermann O’Neil; businessman Jim Reese of the Buckeye Firearms Association; former teachers’ union head Tom Schmida; and local media person Jeffrey Bendix were thoughtful and well-spoken. Chief Robertson and Second Amendment defender Jim Reese were the most interesting panelists from my perspective, possibly because the other three seemed conventional gun regulators.

Cleveland Hts. Police Chief
Jeffrey Robertson
Robertson’s father and grandfather were policemen so his comfort level with guns was ingrained. He seemed to place a great deal of faith in Police Academy firearms training conducted by his department. A lot of citizens sign up for it, he said, one of several steps a person needs to take if he/she wants a concealed carry permit under state law.

I hadn’t met Reese until about an hour before the program. We had spoken over the phone concerning the invitation we had extended Buckeye Firearms to send a representative. We met by pre-arrangement at Panini's on Coventry because I wanted to have an informal discussion with somebody whose experiences and world view likely ran quite counter to my own.

Retired air traffic controller Jim Reese of Vermilion OH
represented Second Amendment defenders at panel discussion
I quickly discovered that Reese is not your stereotypical fire-breathing, flame-throwing gun nut. He’s affable, articulate, educated, a good listener, a student of history, loves nature, can fly a single-engine plane and is a defender of the entire Constitution, not just the parts he likes. He can disagree with you without being disagreeable. He’s not so much into hunting. He kinda makes you wish all 2nd Amendment advocates were so reasonable. The time flew by and we had to scoot to the Heights Community Center for the program.

Club president and moderator Mike Gaynier
State Senator Shirley Smith was an
attentive listener  
The best part of the evening by far was the Q and A, even though moderator Mike Gaynier was well armed with a full magazine of questions to fire at the panel. [SMMH*] He just couldn’t anticipate the life experiences resident in the crowd of about 40 that came to listen and then speak. This was an open-to-all forum sponsored by the Cleveland Heights Democratic Club and people were there from Garfield, Shaker, South Euclid. A guy who entered ahead of me and looked from the back like retired judge Burt Griffin turned out to be, Judge Griffin. And there were clergy, attorneys, physicians, retirees, etc. State Senator Shirley Smith, who has just introduced gun control legislation in the 2013 session of the General Assembly, drew applause.

There was no shortage of questions from the engaged crowd in attendance at last night's discussion on gun control

But those life experiences! There was the woman who was accosted on Lee Road in 1988 and shot in the neck with a .22 that resulted in agonizing recuperation and partial paralysis. There was the family friend of teenager Penny Chang^, who was shot and killed in Shaker Heights by a mentally ill friend. And there was the minister whose congregation has recently attracted a pistol-packing visitor whose  Sunday morning presence has created concerns among fellow worshipers not quite ready for their heavenly rewards. 

And then there was the polymath physician who had a medicine cabinet full of valid statistics and persuasive talking points that flowed like water: about how 2/3 of gun deaths are from suicide, that we as a society are asking the wrong questions in the gun control debate, that the mentally ill are no more prone to commit murder than the rest of us, that the notion that guns make their owner safer is easily shown to be a statistical myth; that the incidence of mass murders — defined as more than four victims — has pretty much held steady over the last 20 years or so [it’s the ubiquitous 24/7 news cycle that has heightened awareness].

The zinger of the night, the observation that cut through all the position taking, came when one questioner pointed out that the professionals, the people with presumably the most situational training in addition to  superior firearms skills, had recently been performing like OK Corralers on speed. This kind suburban Caucasian was of course referring to Cleveland’s finest, the perpetrators of “the perfect chase” that led to the 137-bullet fusillade that ended the lives of two unarmed citizens and will define the careers of at least twenty or so safety officials before all is said and done.

As I said, I’ll let you know when the video is up.

Meanwhile, if you want video about police policy, deadly force policy, chase policy, disciplinary procedures, and the like, you can find source material here, here, and here. That’s where you can find Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Police Chief Michael McGrath, and Cleveland City Council, respectively, holding forth on these and related topics.

* SMMH = Shaking My Metaphorical Head.
^ An earlier version of this post mis-identifed this speaker as the mother of the murdered girl. Thanks to a Real Deal reader for the correction.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NonProfit Thursday: Obama Appointee Coming to Karamu Feb. 24


Distinguished historian speaking at Karamu Sunday, Feb. 24

Rutgers University historian Clement A. Price will speak at Karamu on Sunday, February 24 as part of an African American History Month program sponsored by the Cleveland Restoration Society.

Professor Clement A. Price
Rutgers University
Price, who is published widely in African American history, American cultural policy and American urban history, is a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor, one of the highest faculty honors at the university. He chaired President Obama’s transition team for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Price appears in Cleveland in conjunction with “The African American Experience in Cleveland”, the 40th Anniversary Legacy Project of the Cleveland Restoration Society.

Price’s appearance is free and open to the public but registration is requested here by Feb. 18.

The Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation, Karamu House, National Forum for Black Public Administrators, the Phillis Wheatley Association, and United Pastors in Mission are co-sponsors of this event.

• • •

Turmoil at Wilberforce subject of national story by Cleveland writer

The continuing fiscal struggles of Ohio’s tiny Wilberforce University, the first HBCU founded by African Americans, are the subject of a report by Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs.

According to her report, published by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, the school is $29 million in debt and its enrollment may have dwindled to just above 400 students.

You can read her bleak account online here.

Click here to read this post in its entirety.







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'Stop or I'll Shoot' or 'Stop AND I'll Shoot' ?

Some of the best people I know are or have been police officers. I will mention only one by name, Robert Taliaferro, because he is deceased. Bob was legendary for his dependability, industry, dignified carriage, grace and generosity. He also had a finely honed sense of humor.

I know other current and retired police officers who had or are creating distinguished careers in public service as protectors of society. I am aware of instances where they have arrested people and then gone and found them jobs. They haven’t all been saints; at least one former classmate who became a police officer lost his job for an act of bad judgment.

But none of these police friends of mine, whether rank and file patrolmen or upper-level supervisors, has sought to defend the behavior of those Cleveland police officers on the night of November 29, when “the perfect chase” resulted in the deaths of two unarmed suspects at the hands of 13 police officers.

I find myself thinking that that incident is far more egregious than last year’s vigilante slaying of Trayvon Martin. I find it far worse than the videotaped beat down of Rodney King in 1992 by a gang of Los Angeles police officers.

Yesterday I read the so-called Manifesto of Christopher Jordan Dorner, the former Navy reservist and ex-LAPD cop who went on a murderous rampage after apparently snapping at what he deemed unacceptably racist and hypocritical treatment by former colleagues that cost him job, reputation, sanity, and ultimately, it seems, his life.

The Manifesto for me was compelling. Mental health professionals will no doubt find Dorner’s final document fascinating. It rambles from childhood memories and riffs on gun control, to allegations of bias in the LAPD, his views of former presidents [Bill Clinton was his favorite but he also admired George H. W. Bush], Hollywood and television stars, General Petraeus, future political candidates [he favored both Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie], and much more.

What gave verisimilitude and substance to his diatribe were his detailed recitations of common terminology derisively used by his fellow officers to describe both the public they were hired and sworn to protect and serve, and the nation’s Commander in Chief, who just so happens to be the nation’s first African American president. While Dorner was clearly delusional with respect to his final days, his description of the prevailing precinct atmosphere during his LAPD tenure was laser-sharp. He named names as he detailed how some officers who had been implicated in the beating of Rodney King had eventually been promoted.

Unmistakably racist and nasty attitudes can feed a culture where disrespect and brutal behavior become normalized. If, as it said of our life chances, our attitude determines our altitude more than aptitude, we should not be surprised when prejudice overtakes process and unbridled pursuit turns lethal.

I expect the tragic and unnecessary deaths of Timothy Russell and Malinda Williams will prove to be a watershed moment in the history of the Cleveland Police Department.

I think it is up to us, the citizens of this county, to ensure that it becomes such a moment.