RNC in Cleveland: One Year Out

 

Last summer in Cleveland was filled with Republicans electing the future President of the United States.  NEOCH was busy organizing, protesting and keeping homeless people safe.  We posted a few images from last year on the front of our website and those will be available on our photo galleries page. We reflected on the RNC last July and you can read that by clicking on the blue text.

We started out joining a lawsuit with the ACLU and both pro Trump and anti Trump protestors against the City of Cleveland.  Our interest was the overly broad enforcement "event area," and whether all these out of town police could disrupt homeless encampments.  This would have allowed law enforcement to search, sieze and bar movement from many areas where homeless people sleep especially across the river.  We won in court and the City had to reduce the event zone.  NEOCH staff provided a one page sheet on how to assist homeless people to the two thousand police who came to town.

We worked to keep homeless people safe with transportation from the East Side to the drop in centers on the West Side.  NEOCH staff did some voter registration activities on the West Side of Cleveland so they did not have to cross the river during the RNC.  We had to figure out where homeless people could go during the day since the Cosgrove Center drop in Center was closed for the week. There was much media about homelessness and the convention both nationally and locally.

NEOCH staff were involved in the protest on the Monday of the RNC that Organize Ohio put together.   We made signs to End Poverty.  We marched.  We listened to speeches asking for Republican leaders to think about the affordable housing crisis, health care for all, increasing income, and stabilizing disability assistance in America.   It was a hot day and a long walk from Lutheran Metro Ministry down to just outside of the "event zone" at Chester Commons.  There were some fantastic speeches like the mom worried about the incendiary language during the campaign about immigrants. There were environmentalists who were concerned about global warming.  There were Black Lives Matter activists worried about unaccountable police. And there were activists asking for a $15 minimum wage and universal access to healthcare in the United States.

Overall, the best of Cleveland was shown to the United States last summer.  We could protest peacefully.  There were very few arrests during the week.  The Police Chief was out among the people talking, keeping the peace and wearing shorts and not riot gear.  Homeless people were not harrassed and could stand with the other pedestrians on the Lorain Carnegie Bridge in peaceful prayer.  There were no arrests or sweeps of homeless people as happened in previous high profile events in the United States.  It was a huge disruption for the one week and it was difficult getting across the river, but it was also quite a spectcle to watch.  I saw people walking downtown that I have never seen before in our fair city.  There were suburban folks from Nebraska who had never seen so much concrete.  There were cowboy hat and boot wearing young men from Montana who had not seen this many minority citizens in the same location. 

Very few of the 20,000 Republican delegates and guests had thought much about homelessness and we did all that we could to get homeless people into the news last summer.  I was skeptical about bringing a party that has a history of hostility toward those living in poverty to a majority Democratic city, but it worked.  There were precincts in the City of Cleveland in 2012 that not one person in that precinct voted for the Republican candidate for President.  I was worried that there would be hostility between the two groups, but Clevelanders were extremely welcoming and hospitable to people who largely see the world differently from most residents of Cleveland.  The Republican Convention of 2016 benefitted the City of Cleveland, and I hope that other cities will look at our ability to host a secure event without harming the residents (including homeless people) in the process and use that as an example. 

Brian Davis

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Cleveland Police Meet to Discuss RNC and Homeless People

The homeless social service providers had a really good meeting with the Cleveland Police Department in early May to talk about the upcoming Republican National Convention. There is a lot of concern that homeless people especially those who do not use the shelters will be targeted by angry demonstrators.  There is concern from homeless social service providers that this fragile population will be swept up in the anger of the current political environment in America.  Police also have a concern that demonstrators who are only in Cleveland for disorder and chaos will attempt to blend into the homeless community.

Thanks to Commander Stephens and Officer Petkac for hosting the meeting at their brand new Station on Chester.  We also need to thank new Council member Kerry McCormack and all the homeless service providers who attended. 

Some of the things we need to work on include:

  1. Security planners are trying for the smallest footprint to minimize disruptions to as close as possible to the Quicken Loan Arena as possible. Key working strategy is "minimally invasive."
  2. We need to solidify plans for the near West Side of Cleveland including an overnight drop in center.  We need to have a safe place two weeks before and during the convention for homeless people. We hope Metanoia will be open for one or two weeks.
  3. We need to make sure that the shelters keep people during the day so that they do not have to be out during the day.
  4. We also need a day time drop in center on the East Side of Cleveland.  This came into question because a number of facilities are having issues with not having security available.  Cleveland Police cannot be deployed to private facilities during the Convention.  They have to be ready to work all of the hours of the convention if necessary.
  5. We are going to offer training advice with police from out of town with a "Dos and Don'ts in working with homeless people in Cleveland flyer.  These flyers can be distributed and will be a part of the orientation.
  6. NEOCH staff will be the liaison between the police and the outreach teams.  Any issues contact Brian at NEOCH and he will get with our contacts at the Police Department.
  7.  Jim Schlecht talked about securing rental assistance for a group of homeless people during the convention.  He mentioned how New York City had helped 85 people get into housing when they hosted the convention in the past.
  8. There was also discussion of some tickets to special events or creating a "Stand Down" type event so there are alternatives to homeless people to being downtown during the convention. 
  9.  We did learn that there should not be major road closures despite the rumors to the contrary.  At this point the Lorain Carnegie Bridge will not be closed, but it could be packed full of travel buses so may want to be avoided.
  10.  It looks like East 9th St. will be dedicated to transporting media and delegates with a lane for these buses and livery vehicles.  This means that cross traffic will only be allowed at Lakeside, Superior, Euclid and Carnegie.  Best to walk Downtown and avoid using a vehicle during the convention. 
  11. Payne Ave. will have a parking lane for police cars, but should be available for auto traffic.
  12. We will have one final discussion with the Cleveland Police in late June to get all of our ducks in a row.

On a personal note, the homeless community is going to miss Commander Stephens who will retire after the convention.  He was very forthcoming and transparent in his dealings with homeless people over the last five or six years.  He came to the Homeless Congress after the shooting death of two homeless people in 2012 and asked for calm.  He guaranteed that there would be an investigation and admitted the police had made extreme errors in judgement that contributed to the death of these unarmed citizens.  He was committed to a fair process for investigating and seeking justice in the death of Williams and Russell.  He agreed to return to explain the results after the judicial system had completed their work.  This was before the trials, the justice department intervention and all that has transpired since that fateful night in the East Cleveland school yard.   Commander Stephens has tried to foster a level of respect for those without housing living in the Third District in Cleveland and continue the work of Commander Gonzalez.

Brian Davis

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How Do We Trust the Police?

I work with the police every week, and the vast majority are caring trustworthy people.  We worked with Commander Andrés González who was one of the best police supervisors ever.  He won the trust of the the social service community and thus the people that we represent. He is now the chief at CMHA and represents the best of the force.  I worked with a police officer who threatened to arrest an EMS driver who was refusing to take in a homeless guy who needed immediate medical attention to the hospital.  The EMS worker said that the guy was faking it and was a "frequent flyer" and he was "done with him."  The health care worker said that if the homeless guy did not go to the hospital he would lose his leg.  The Police officer stepped into demand the EMS worker do his job or he would take him into custody.  We were thankful, and the homeless guy was fine after a week in the hospital.  We have patrolmen that we can call anytime during the day for help and they call us when there is a homeless issue.  Many officers deal in myths about homeless people, but are still well meaning despite their outdated thinking.  There are a small part of the police force in Cleveland who give the CPD and the City a black eye and are angry or view the public as the enemy. 

The 13 officers involved in the Russell/Williams killing, the two officers involved in the death of Tamir Rice, and the Cleveland Police who were caught using improper force are the worst of the force.  With the Homeless Coalition there were two officers down in the Flats who would regularly harass homeless people.  We saw police in the 1990s using unconstitutional harassment of homeless people to drive them out of downtown.  We had uniformed officers at the Community Women's shelter regularly threatening women with arrest or the use of a stun gun to enforce shelter rules.  We have had complaints to our office that one uniformed officer would take women at the shelter home at night.  When the Coalition sued the City in the 1990s over sweeps of homeless people, I had one police officer follow me in my car and then threaten me with arrest for opening my car door into traffic when I was parked at a parking meter on Lakeside.  Many homeless people report excessive bullying by police officers to try to make them disappear from the public.  We have had police cut up tents and respond with violence and threats when a complaint is called in about a homeless person sleeping rough.  These few officers make the whole force look bad, but my issue is that these poorly trained angry officers never get criticized by the union or other police and the City has a hard time firing them. 

Steve Loomis, Cleveland Patrolman's Association union president, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the forthcoming settlement with the US Justice Department was "disheartening," and added that "I think we've done an incredible job here."  After digesting the consent decree that the City signed with the Justice Department Loomis said,

"This is a political agenda," he said. "This has nothing to do with the actions of the men and women of the Cleveland police department."

No one could ever say the CPD were doing an "incredible" job here.  I understand representing your union members and I understand that these high profile cases have really hurt the image of the Cleveland Police, but these statements just make things worse for the men and woman who wear the badge.  Just don't say anything, Mr. Loomis, you are not helping here.   What is it going to take for the union to see a problem and admit that changes need to happen.  A little boy was killed only seconds after the police arrived on the scene neither protecting nor serving the Cudell neighborhood, and the union does not see a problem?

People keep saying that if the victims of these crimes had just given up, none of these incidents would have happened.  This is unfair to the victims since no one can ever prove this and no one can confirm whether some of these people did try to give up and were killed anyway.  We do not know what happened on the Shoreway or those side streets downtown or in that elementary school in East Cleveland.  We don't know if these people tried to give up and were killed anyway, and we do know that 12 year old with an adolescent brain was not given much time to surrender before he was shot.

What is it going to take to regain our trust? This is not a occupying force attempting to keep the peace in Iraq.  These are citizens and taxpayers of Cleveland some with good intentions and others with bad motives and a large number facing desperate decisions to survive and get out of poverty.  Starting in front of 2100 Lakeside shelter when the chase began for Timothy Russell's Chevy Malibu on that fateful November 2012 evening, the Police have been dealt a body blow to their credibility.  These three high profile deaths have exposed deep distrust in the Department by those paying their salary.  They have revealed that many in the Department felt that they were at war with taxpayers and citizens.  We saw that in pockets of the CPD Black and Latino lives did not matter and victims were treated as less than human.  We saw why women were not willing to come forward to tell police about the predator who was living over on Imperial Avenue.   We saw that many white officers loved the job security and comfortable living the salary provided but did not like the majority black taxpayers who paid their salary and did not want to be forced to live in those communities that they were patrolling. 

People keep saying that if the victims of these crimes had just given up, none of these incidents would have happened.  This is unfair to the victims since no one can ever prove this and no one can confirm whether some of these people did try to give up and were killed anyway.  We do not know what happened on the Shoreway or those side streets downtown or in that elementary school in East Cleveland.  We don't know if these people tried to give up and were killed anyway, and we do know that Tamir Rice was not given much time to surrender before he was shot. 

When an institution is exposed as having lost the trust of the people who pay their salary, it takes a concerted effort and a lot of apologizing to regain that standing.  After the excesses of the Hoover controlled FBI, the agency was neutered and weakened for decades.  The September 11 attacks exposed the horrible oversight of airport security and led to the scrapping of that system with a whole new agency created.  The repeated scandals involving the Secret Service has put that agency under the microscope.  The Army Corps of Engineers has never recognized its role in the drowning of New Orleans after Katrina, but is distrusted across the United States.  We know that the first thing that must happen is that everyone must admit there is a problem including the union chief.  Until there is recognition of the problem, there is no way to heal.  The falling down drunk does not see the problem with his excessive drinking until he sobers up to see the trail of destruction.  The union and the rank and file need to sober up to see the results of some of their member's abuse of power.   I can't think of an example of when an organization fell so far down and was able to regain the trust of the public.  It is going to take new leadership, a new name, a new contract with the City, and some serious penance to show that they deserve our trust. 

Brian Davis

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Timothy Russell Family Find No Justice in Cleveland

Dear Michelle Russell, sister of Timothy:

I am so sorry that you have to endure this third injustice regarding your brother.  I hope that you can find some peace despite the court not being able to punish this Cleveland Police Officer for the murder of your brother.  I know that this undermines your confidence and other's confidence in the justice system and, in fact, local government.  It is unfathomable that a man sworn to protect the Constitution could jump up on the hood of your brother's car, reload his weapon firing 49 times, and that does not result in a conviction.  Have we reached the point that those wearing a badge are above the law and cannot be prosecuted?  We are so thankful that you have dedicated your life to serving low income and homeless people and have participated as a NEOCH Board member over the past five years in pushing social justice.  Your strength in court, testifying on behalf of your brother, and in the press conferences has been a model of stoicism. 

The first injustice was that we could not quickly move your brother back to stability and better assist with his behavioral health issues.  Because of privacy rules, there was no way to reach out to family members to alert them that their son, brother, and friend was struggling with many issues including homelessness.  The homeless service system has little ability to get family members involved if the homeless individual is embarrassed or unwilling to have contact with family members.  We never made the link that your brother was a client of another NEOCH Board member and that he needed help that he was not finding in the current social service system.  We may have made some strides in changing the social service system since 2012 with coordinated intake, but I am not sure we are yet responding appropriately when family members become homelessness in Cleveland. 

The second injustice was the police chase and then execution of your brother for not stopping when faced by a wall of blue.  I grieve for you, Michelle and hope that you can find peace after this horrible incident.  I trust that with all the investigations and the Justice Department condemning of the Cleveland Police provides you some comfort. I was encouraged that there will be improved training, police cameras in the cars and body cameras on all patrolmen as a result of this tragedy. But none of that will bring back your brother or Malissa Williams.   It is incomprehensible that more officers were not charged with a felony after the death of two homeless people in our community.  How can two unarmed people fleeing for their lives be gunned down in a parking lot in East Cleveland?  How can race not be taken into account with so many white officers executing two African Americans? The 13 police officers had all these weapons and police cars against these two people with a mental illness driving in a 25 year old car and so far have faced only a 30 day suspension.  Why is lethal force the first response by the Cleveland Police Department in this and a number of other incidents?  How bad was the training of the CPD officers that this could go so wrong?  And is anyone going to pay for how bad these officers were trained?   After all, both the Chief and Safety Director at the time were promoted after the November 29 murder of your brother.

The final injustice was today with the not guilty verdict of one of the police officer in your brother's death.  We listened to the verdict and all the comments after the verdict and are still stunned by the Judge's decision.  The Judge was so meticulous in detailing every shot and every step of the shooting (how you were able to sit in the court room for that hour was amazing).  The details overwhelmed the big picture of 60 police cars and 137 bullets.  It seemed that the Judge was mired in when your brother's heart stopped and which bullet killed Williams while ignoring the injustice of 13 police officers immediately shooting two unarmed citizens.  Why is it so easy to put a black man with drug paraphernalia or a box cutter in jail, but the police who kill, choke to death, or violently restrain a mentally ill woman are given a walk?  Why are African Americans who kill a white bar owner immediately charged and pushed into a plea deal while we wait months and years to get justice when a white police officer uses lethal force against an African American?  Many in Greater Cleveland are saddened and embarrassed that justice for Williams and your brother is delayed. 

Our community needs your voice to promote police reform and a dramatic change in oversight of law enforcement.  I hope that you will become involved in enforcing the Justice Department agreement to make sure that your brother's voice lives on.  We need a complete overhaul of the police union contract with the City and a new strategy on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  Stay strong in the face of injustice.

Brian Davis

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Homeless Congress Recommendations

Summary:  The Cleveland Police need a liaison to work with homeless people and should not wear their city issued uniform/badge when off duty and acting as private security officers.

Background: The Cleveland police chase in 2012 that started the second Justice Department investigation into CPD practices and procedures involved two homeless people driving the car.  The two unarmed homeless people were killed in a school yard in East Cleveland after a large number of cars were involved in a high speed chase.  Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were killed by over 130 bullets fired at their car resulting in the Justice Dept. report issued in 2014.  Many supervisors and officers were disciplined and six Police Department staff were charged with a crime.  Command staff attended a Homeless Congress meeting to discuss the incident and to ask for calm while the investigation moved forward.  Homeless Congress members regularly discussed the issue of police interactions with the population and were interviewed by the Justice Department legal team. 

What is the Homeless Congress? Representatives of the shelters and people who live outside meet once a month to work to improve conditions for homeless people.  They meet with local elected officials and work on public policy issues that have an effect on homeless people.  They work with government and shelter staff to improve access to homeless services. 

Specific Issues: Members who attended the December 12, 2014 Homeless Congress meeting unanimously supported the following proposals.  Homeless people in Cleveland are asking that any agreement with the Cleveland Police Department and the US Justice Department should contain the following points to prevent future problems between law enforcement and homeless people. 

  1. Police should not wear the Cleveland uniform when working private security

Homeless Congress members voiced concerns regarding off-duty officers wearing Cleveland police uniforms when working security at homeless shelters and drop in centers. This confuses and blurs the line between law enforcement and securing a building or private company.  The citizen is often not sure if the uniformed officer is enforcing City law or are they enforcing shelter policies?  Shelter residents were concerned that regular verbal altercations can be escalated into a criminal charge of disorderly conduct when a uniformed officer becomes involved.   We have numerous examples of Police officers threatening arrest for violating shelter rules, which does not seem to be the job of an employee of the City.  Shelter residents proposed that off-duty officers working security at shelters wear the uniform of a private security company that employs them and not the badge and uniform of the City of Cleveland. 

2. Need for a Liaison at Each Police District to Work with Homeless People and Domestic Violence  victims/as well as the agencies which serve them.                 `

Homeless Congress members also proposed that each police district have liaisons who would work with the homeless and homeless agencies. It was suggested that these liaisons have training about homelessness, which would include a short-term stay in a shelter in order to learn more about  homelessness. It was also proposed that the officer receive training from the agencies serving homeless and domestic violence victims.  We believe that this will provide a better understanding of the problems homeless people face and Police officers will make a more educated decision of how to respond to calls involving people who are without a place to live.

Joyce Robinson attended the Homeless Congress and published a letter in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in January regarding the consensus opinion of homeless people attending the meeting here.

We have communicated the opinion of the Homeless Congress to the US Justice Department, and hope to communicate them to the Cleveland City Council members.

Brian Davis

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Clevelanders Angry About the Police

The Cleveland City Council have promised a listening session around the City to talk about the Justice Department report issued two weeks ago regarding Cleveland Police Department.  If last night was any indication, they need to be prepared for a great deal of anger and a lot of pent up frustration.  I attended the Justice Department listening session led by US Attorney Steven Dettelbach at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. 

Maybe it was not the best idea to have this discussion so close to Imperial Avenue where police neglect of a community became painfully clear.  Or that there were relatives of Tamir Rice  sitting in the audience and frustrated that this report does not address the injustice that happened at Cudell Recreation Center. Or maybe to hold a meeting so close to the time of the weekend March on Washington with many from Cleveland having attended and were empowered by hundreds of thousands marching.   It seemed to me that no one has given residents of Cleveland the chance to talk about the police for a very long time, and this report opened the flood gates.

There were so many people who wanted to ask questions that we never got to a discussion about remedies or solutions.  Dettelbach has promised to come back to talk about the components of the agreement.  There was a question that came up about why the 2002 agreement was not successful.  The last agreement was voluntary, had a limited time horizon (1 year) and did not have an outside monitor was the reason that it did not work according to the current US Attorney.  Some of the highlights or lowlights from the discussion was that the CPD were using force including striking people with their guns as a form of punishment.  There was a great deal of discussion about racial profiling by uniformed officers.  Many in the audience felt that police were guilty of crimes up to and including the murder of a number of citizens.  There was a large amount of criticism of the Fourth Police District especially the Vice Squad at the meeting. 

Dettelbach had a Justice Department employee discuss the agreements in other cities especially Seattle with their police as an example of what could happen here.  The Seattle agreement does not expire until the City can prove that it is free of all of these constitutional violations for two years, but in a larger sense there will have to be a permanent change.  The Justice Department is requiring changes in the law that will last longer than the agreement.  For example, an elected and appointed independent civilian review board must be created in law to oversee police policy and use of deadly force. 

NEOCH and homeless people are concerned since this entire Justice Department involvement started when Cleveland Police killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two homeless people, over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2012.  The Homeless Congress talked about the report and has made some recommendations that we will be discussing more fully in the future.

  1. Appointing liaisons to the homeless/domestic violence community from each of the districts who will receive additional training.
  2. Asking that the officers working private security (esp. at the shelters) not be allowed to wear their badge and uniform from the City of Cleveland.  This creates confusion and mistrust of the officers.

Brian Davis

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