'I See Myself In Tamir Rice,' Says Community Policing Advocate
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We also wanted to spend a few minutes talking about a pressing issue facing the Cleveland Police Department as it prepares for the tens of thousands of delegates attending the national convention. The police department is operating under intense federal scrutiny called a consent decree after several police shootings of unarmed citizens, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
When I was in Cleveland, I visited with Mario Clopton who helps run a volunteer group established to advise law enforcement. It's called the Cleveland Community Police Commission, and I asked him for an update on those investigations.
MARIO CLOPTON: After the deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell and long police chase concluding in the shooting of 137 shots into what ended up being unarmed citizens in a vehicle, Mayor Jackson asked the Department of Justice to do an investigation to find if there is a pattern of unconstitutional policing or excessive use of force. They concluded in December of 2014 that there was evidence of excessive use of force, unconstitutional policing, lack of transparency, lack of resources for officers, equipment, lack of training - just several systemic deficiencies.
And so began the process between the Department Justice and the city to agree to reforms. That is the consent decree.
MARTIN: What made you want to do this job?
CLOPTON: I'm a teacher. That's my full-time job. And when Tamir Rice was killed, that hit me. I'm seeing myself. I see my students in Tamir Rice. And with his death, I said enough. So whatever I had to do to make some change, I was going to do it.
MARTIN: Many people around the country remember the name Tamir Rice, which is the 12-year-old who was killed by Cleveland police when he was playing in a park with a BB gun. Overall, how would you describe the relationships between the Cleveland Police and the broader Cleveland community - recognizing that different people have different relationships with the police - but how would you describe it now as we sit here kind of going into this convention week?
CLOPTON: A lot of people are wait and see. When you lose trust in anything - in a relationship, in a city - it takes time to mend that relationship. We're kind of at the beginning of this process. It's going to take a while for these things - once be implemented and developed and to actually see some results.
MARTIN: Commission members, like yourself, have taken issue with the level of communication that you think that you've gotten from the Cleveland police about their plans for policing the convention. What kind of information have you sought and have they been responsive?
CLOPTON: Our questions were about equipment, training, the footprint that the equipment would leave. We understand that there is bikes, and that's great. We understand that there's barricades, and we've seen them. They're here. That's great.
But $50 million of this grant that was given through the Department of Justice is a lot of money, and we want to know beyond those two things and the riot gear what else has been purchased? How will it be used in the future after the RNC is over?
MARTIN: And has there been any response to that, even a response of we can't tell you for security reasons or has it just been silence?
CLOPTON: We did finally receive a we have received your letter.
MARTIN: Acknowledging that the letter was received, but you still haven't gotten an answer about the specific substantive concerns that you raised?
CLOPTON: The CPC has not. What we're looking for is just more formal answers and responses to the inquiries that people have. It's not just activists. It's not just, you know, people in authority. It's people who have these interactions with police on a daily basis that they're uncomfortable with or just taxpaying citizens that want to know where their tax dollars are going. If it's not city dollars, it's federal dollars. We pay taxes somehow. If we know what our money is purchasing - and then, again, we may not agree, but at least we know.
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