Angry Citizens Confront Cleveland Officials
About 350 people crowded into the Cudell Recreation Center on the west side. It was outside that center that the 12 year old African American boy with a BB gun was shot by a white police officer. Mayor Frank Jackson, Police Chief Calvin Williams, and other law enforcement officials spent nearly four hours answering questions and listening to angry speeches by citizens. Some questions came from children.
“I’m Jaja Cunninham, 7th grader at Newton D. Baker School of Arts. I’d like to ask how do you think this situation that happened this weekend change the perspective of children that come here of the police?”
A slightly shaken director of parks and recreation for the city, Michael Cox, stepped up and answered the boy.
'We want you here; we want to protect you; this is a safe haven.”
Cox then handed the boy his business card and told him to call if needed to. Adults like Calista Cotting also wondered about the safety of her children. She’s a mother of six and moved to Cleveland after graduating from college.
“Now I’m scared. And within the last couple weeks with all the killings and as a single mom and what my boys have witnessed at the hands of police, I want to leave Cleveland. I’m scared for my boys.”
Mayor Frank Jackson could only tell her to do what she had to as a mother.
“I have grandkids, great-grandkids live with me 2, 9, 12. 17 boys. So I have some of the same concerns you have.”
Over and over people asked about police procedure. Chief Calvin Williams announced that the department would release the surveillance video of the shooting today at 1PM. It has no audio and was taken from a corner of the rec center roof. The officials did not explain details of the Tamir Rice shooting but Chief Williams said sometimes officers have only a split second to make a decision on using deadly force.
“All officers are trained to give commands ‘Show me your hands. Put up your hands.’ That in itself is going to tell my officers whether or not in a split second to use his firearm or other means of self-defense or that person is going to comply.”
Others asked how is it that Aurora Colorado shooter James Holmes could kill 12 people in a movie theater and still be apprehended alive but 12 year old Tamir was shot. "The department is full of neo-Nazi's" yelled one . A high school teacher wondered whether recent gang arrests in that same neighborhood may have affected the way police see black youth.
Another asked whether police get special treatment. Mayor Jackson said that may be true and recalled his attempt to fire some cops last year only to have an arbitrator over-rule the city, requiring them to reinstate officers with back-pay.
“And I agree with you there are some disparities in the way the system approaches different people depending on who they are. That does not mean that politically I should throw a policeman under the bus just because it would cover my political behind.”
And it was one child, Erica Leggett, that asked Community Relations Director Blaine Griffin what many in the crowd wanted to know.
“Hi, my name is Erica and I go to John F Kennedy Elementary School. Is it OK to use …
GRIFFIN “Take your time”
ERICA “Is it protocol to use lethal force on children?”
GRIFFIN “The answer is no. Absolutely not. Absolutely not.”
Police have said the officers who approached Tamir Rice on Saturday may not have known they were dealing with a child nor that his gun was just a toy. Whether the rookie officer who shot Tamir Rice is prosecuted will be up to a county grand jury to decide.