Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Don't Be Pacified By the Cleveland PD Settlement Agreement

The Washington Post reports that:

The city of Cleveland has agreed to have its police department overseen by an independent monitor and subject its officers to strict and explicit new rules on the use of force, under a settlement with the Justice Department that was announced Tuesday.

The agreement, which follows the Justice Department’s finding that Cleveland police engaged in unnecessary and excessive use of force, imposes some of the toughest standards in the nation on the department. It lays out an array of prohibitions in an effort to reduce violent encounters between the police and the community — particularly its minorities — and ingrain “bias-free policing principles” throughout the department.

The police department, according to the agreement, is now expected to “deliver police services with the goal of ensuring that they are equitable, respectful, and free of unlawful bias, in a manner that promotes broad community engagement and confidence.”

The city, for instance, must document every time an officer unholsters a gun, which the agreement says is a reportable use of force and should be investigated as such. “Officers will not unholster and display a firearm unless the circumstances create a reasonable belief that lethal force may become necessary,” according to the rules.

Cleveland officers are now explicitly barred from using neck holds. They can use force against people who are handcuffed or restrained only when it is “objectively reasonable and necessary” to prevent an assault or an escape. And they are instructed not to use retaliatory force, such as punishing “an individual for disrespecting officers,” or use force against people “who only verbally confront them.”

Officers are also not allowed to fire a warning shot, and they are prohibited from firing from or at a moving vehicle unless they can justify the use of lethal force by something other than the threat from the moving car.

The settlement further requires that before resorting to force officers use “de-escalation techniques,” such as verbal persuasion and creating distance between the officer and the threat, whenever possible.

The city also will be required to provide medical care to residents who have been the subjects of force. The agreement does not require the use of body cameras by officers.

The agreement also calls for the creation of a community police commission, made up of 10 representatives from across the community, including from civil rights and student organizations, and one representative each from the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Shield police association.

This settlement agreement follows the acquittal of Officer Michael Brelo on charges of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault for the killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two unarmed African Americans. As reported on CNN,
Brelo, 31, was accused of firing the bullets that killed Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, on November 29, 2012, after a 22-mile police chase ended in a middle school parking lot. Authorities said Brelo stood on the hood of the car Russell was driving and fired 15 shots through the windshield.

Though about a dozen officers fired a total of 137 rounds at the car, no other officers were charged with manslaughter.

In explaining his verdict, Judge O'Donnell said it was reasonable for Brelo to think Russell and Williams still posed a threat to officers. The chase started after the car driven by Russell backfired -- a noise officers mistakenly thought was caused by gunshots. The judge also said he couldn't be sure Brelo fired the fatal rounds.
Additionally, the settlement agreement comes months after the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old African American boy who was killed by police for having a pellet gun. The police killed Tamir a few seconds after they arrived on the scene.

Hopefully, the Justice Department's settlement agreement will bring about systemic and enduring change in the Cleveland Police Department. Perhaps, it will prevent these blatant examples of excessive force from occurring in the future.

Although this announcement is great news, activists should not allow this news to pacify them. Three black people are dead and justice for them is no where in sight. We must continue to demand justice for Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams and all other victims of police brutality in Cleveland and around this nation. We cannot forget them like many have forgotten Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Our struggle is far from over.

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