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Cleveland NAACP Demands Police Reforms To Address Systemic Racism

The Cleveland branch of the NAACP wants police reforms that address systemic racism. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
A Cleveland police car patrols the Tremont neighborhood.

The Cleveland branch of the NAACP is demanding reforms to local law enforcement agencies, amid renewed attention on police use of force, especially with black people.

The proposed reforms stop short of calling for the total defunding or abolishment of police departments, as some groups have demanded.

But Danielle Sydnor, president of the Cleveland NAACP, said the organization wants to see sweeping and immediate changes – and says press conferences and promises aren’t enough.

"This is not a new thing," Sydnor said. "You have pictures and signs from 50 years ago, 60 years ago, where black communities were asking the police to stop killing us and stop brutalizing us."

The branch is taking cues from the national organization and adapting demands to what is needed locally, Sydnor said. Topping the Cleveland NAACP’s list is an outright ban on knee holds and choke holds. The group also wants more stringent vetting of officers to screen out those likely to use excessive force; access to records about individual officers' conduct; and adherence to the six-step Use of Force Continuum established by the National Institute of Justice

The Cleveland branch is planning a meeting later this month with the Cuyahoga County Police Chiefs Association, which represents police departments within Cuyahoga County but outside the City of Cleveland, to talk about how the demands can be adopted, Sydnor said. The chiefs have so far been receptive to the Cleveland NAACP's demands, she said.

The recent death of Desmond Franklin, a black man who was shot by an off-duty Cleveland police officer, shows how far local departments have to go, Sydnor said, despite the Cleveland Police Department being under a federal consent decreefor the past five years.

"If you look at the consent decree, there's no reason an officer should have been shooting out of a moving vehicle into another moving vehicle," as happened in the case of Franklin, she said. "And so the fact that an officer, while the City of Cleveland is under a consent decree, was still behaving in that manner, demonstrates to me the change that we're seeking has not been accomplished yet."

She said the organization might consider calling for abolishment or defunding of the police in the future, but not until they had had an opportunity to study alternatives to the current law enforcement system.

"I believe that we spend a lot of time policing poverty," Sydnor said. "And if we would solve the underlying issues of poverty and the underlying issues of systemic racism, I think you naturally get to a defunding of the police."

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.