'Our Land': Central Residents Talk Community Policing

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by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

Today we continue Our Land: a conversation about community policing in Cleveland.  Over the course of this occasional series we've heard diverse and authentic perspectives of Clevelanders on what community policing should look like in their view, and how far we are from that ideal.  

Gregory Terrell

TERRELL: “I think that it should look like that officers care. That police know the people that they are involved with.” 

Gregory Terrell heads the non-profit Society 4 Non-violent Change, which works to mediate conflict and keep the peace in Cleveland neighborhoods.  He and ideastream's Tony Ganzer met up in Cleveland's Central neighborhood, in the courtyard of the Renaissance Village public housing development.

TERRELL: “Befriend the residents, and I think that that will change a lot of things, that the people will begin to trust the police officers.  It would help go a long way with what it is that we do.  People have a bad taste in their mouth about the city police, but I think it can change, I really do.  I'm not a person or an activist who don't like the police, I think that we need the police.  Okay? I'm not screaming 'screw the police,' I'm screaming 'we need more police.'  But we need good police to police our neighborhoods.  And I need more people like myself to come out and to help them to be able to do their job.”

Terrell credits the police of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, or CMHA, for community policing efforts, but he says there could always be more visibility, and more outreach to get to know residents from all police. 

Because Terrell says it’s the cooperation between officers and residents that will help tackle violence in Cleveland neighborhoods.

TERRELL: “Right now we're being held hostage.  We're being held hostage not just because of what the police doing, but by what the residents aren't doing. You know, we have to own up to that as well. I think that the police that we have that don't respect the rights of its citizens need to be kicked off the police force, okay? But I honestly believe that there is more good cops than there is bad.”

Terrell invited some residents to his nearby office to share their views on police, and violence in their neighborhood.  Kamille Johnson is a mother of 7.

Kamille Johnson

JOHNSON: “Community policing for me would be actually getting out of your vehicle, and walking around, and interacting with the community.  I have had a bad experience myself where my children has went and said 'hi police, hi police' and they keep walking like they're not even talking to them. That creates a problem, because when they get older you want them to talk to you. You want them...'hey did you see somebody run through here with a red shirt on?' and you want them to say yes or no and they're going to look at you, and they're not going to say anything, they're not going to help you, they're not going to be their friend, because when you had the opportunity you didn't take it.  I do think that we're very far from it, I think that we're very far from it, just because of the different things that are going on not in just this community but the city as a whole.”

Johnson wants more overall cooperation between residents, police, churches, non-profits, all working toward making neighborhoods safer.  She says it's a terrible feeling to fear for your children interacting with police...or even just playing outside.

JOHNSON: “When we first came we heard gunshots they ran in the house, now they hear a gunshot and I have to push them in the house--'come on, let's go, let's go'--because they've gotten used to it. When we first came here the gunshots at night would wake them up from their sleep, now they sleep through it.  So it's become like they're immune to it, it doesn't really bother them, it doesn't faze them.  And then the amount of gunfire that you hear it's like a war zone.  There are some nights that I don't sleep, because I'm walking and looking at all the children, making sure everybody's still breathing, making sure there's not a bullet hole coming in, making sure everybody okay. I've seen someone get shot more than one time down here.  One time we were sitting right in front of my house, combing hair, talking to the kids, laughing, eating popsicles, nice day outside, everybody talking having a good time, and all of the sudden we hear 'pow, pow pow' and it's like right in front of my face, I can even see the fire from the gun.  That's not good.  And once again here I am, I'm pushing kids, not just my kids, all the kids 'come on, come on, in the house, in the house' my neighbor came, Ms. Kim she was out there, her daughter, and we're all laying on the ground and they're having a free-for-all right outside my door.”

Next to Johnson sits Kim Benefield, a resident known as Ms. Kim to the neighborhood.  She also calls for more cooperation between police and others for the sake of safety, but she adds that various public housing units all need to work together, not just individually.

Kim Benefield

BENEFIELD: “The police need to come down, and knock on doors, 'come on out, let's go to a ballgame.' Do something with the kids to make them comfortable to be talking to them, and make us feel comfortable to talk to them, too.  Because right now we run and close our doors. So I'm walking around trying to get everybody, come on let's come together there ain't no separate this place over here, this side over here, this side, we're all as one.”

Another important piece in the discussion of safety and stability in neighborhoods for these women is family.  Breanna Church says she doesn't live in this neighborhood, but does live in a CMHA development.

CHURCH: “If the focus is black males, because they matter, they're important, they're the head, it should be focused on how they can get to know them, their selves.  Their minds are not where they should be. Families were broken.  Everyone knows the history of slavery, and how black families were torn apart, starting with the males.  That's our rock.  They have to know where they come from, their history, and how to get their minds right.”

Church says if women don't stand up and demand a change from men, then men will continue with what she calls shenanigans.

Breanna Church

CHURCH: “We have to take an active role, as well.  It's not just the males, it's a community, it's a family.  Without the father...with the moms accepting the shenanigans, because a lot of women are accepting men you know not having a job, or men acting crazy.  If they're accepting it, the males is gonna keep doing it.  So that's where women can stand up and say 'no more, it's time to get right.' Because if you're not right, the family's not right.”

Kamille Johnson agrees.

JOHNSON: “The man is supposed to be the head of the household, he's supposed to be the provider, he's supposed to be a lot of different things, so sometimes the young black males don't have that model in front of them.  They're being raised in a household with just their mother.  So you don't have the model that you're supposed to have, that, in essence, was supposed to be.  God made it that way, it was supposed to be a man and a woman coming together to have children and raise their children together.  We got away from that, myself included.  I didn't get married until after I had children.”

These women want more resources for non-profits like the Society 4 Non-violent Change, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the like, to better help young people stay on the straight and narrow, and even better discover themselves. And from the police, Breanna Church reiterates that familiarity between residents and officers would go a long way: 

CHURCH: “If they got to know me, and if they became a part of the community, because they're policing our community, they wouldn't be so quick to shoot and kill us, and that's how some of it can be decreased...by becoming part of the family.”

Find more parts of this series here.

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