Thursday, October 19, 2017

Police endorsement not critical issue in Jackson-Reed contest for Cleveland mayor

As Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilman Zack Reed make final preparations for what is likely to be their only debate before Nov. 5, when voters will decide who will be Cleveland’s mayor for the next four years, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association endorsement of Reed has suddenly become a campaign issue.

What have we come to 50 years after the election of Carl Stokes as the city’s black first mayor? The CPPA was created in opposition to Carl Stokes’ authority following the Glenville shootout in 1968.  The CPPA’s current leader is Steve Loomis — a spiritual descendant of Bull Connor. Loomis is contemptuous of the city’s consent decree with the US Department of Justice and the findings of police misconduct upon which it is based. In his eyes, it was “good police work” when 100 cops in sixty police cars chased two unarmed citizens at high speeds throughout the city and across municipal lines — in open defiance of police procedures and the direct orders of their superiors — cornered the “suspects” in a schoolyard and then fired 137 shots at close range into their defenseless bodies.

Likewise, Loomis found nothing inappropriate when a cop so intemperate and so incompetent he was unsuitable as a crossing guard, to say nothing of an armed officer of the law, shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice within two seconds of the cop’s reckless approach.

Loomis not only defends every instance of excessive and/or deadly use of police force; he exults in smearing any citizen or attorney who questions police behavior. A grandstander of the first degree, he was only too delighted to show his contempt for the First Amendment by announcing his men would not provide security at Cleveland Browns football games because some team members choose to kneel in silent protest of injustice during the playing of the national anthem.

Who would want the endorsement of such a man?

Well, what if a candidate’s opponent was the incumbent mayor at the time Tamir Rice was killed and the 137-bullet chase took place? What if that mayor promoted the police chief at the time of that chase to safety director? What if that mayor appointed the safety director at the time of that chase to some sort of special adviser? And what if the mayor refused to explain either promotion?

It is simpleminded to tar and feather Reed for accepting the CPPA’s endorsement when his opponent, the incumbent mayor, has been unable to bring any significant reform to the department that regulates CPPA members.

The plain fact is that relations between Cleveland police and city hall and between the police and the community have been troubled for more than half a century. 

The dynamics of those relationships need to change. In They Can't Kill Us All: The Story of the Struggle for Black Lives, a book by former Clevelander Wesley Lowery, now a Washington Post reporter, Reed described the situation this way:

“[Violence] is in the DNA of not only the residents but also the police. If we don’t change that mindset, that it’s us against them, then we’re never going to fix this problem.”

Loomis’ single-minded defense of his ranks irrespective of the behavior of the roguish behavior of some of them, together with his efforts to undermine implementation of the consent decree between the City and the US Department of Justice, are undeniable obstacles to improving police-community relations and the quality of policing in our city.

But a far larger question than who the CPPA endorses in this race is this: who or what can lead to a reform of Cleveland’s police culture? 

Today's mayoral debate can be livestreamed here, starting at 12:30PM.