'Our Land': Cudell Residents Talk About Community Policing
by Tony Ganzer, ideastream
Today we begin an occasional series on community policing in Cleveland. This afternoon, officials were set to announce the members of the commission advising authorities during the implementation of a consent decree with the Department of Justice. The city has already been working to transform the division of police within and beyond the framework of that decree. This series will highlight some perspectives of community members, beginning with some residents of the Cudell neighborhood, at West 99th and Madison.
“Baddour: ‘Yeah, that’s where he was shot, the police came from here.’”
Faouzi Baddour is a community activist, standing where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by an officer last November.
“Baddour: ‘And the police car was right here, so they were too close.’”
Rice had a pellet gun when officers drove onto the grass toward a gazebo at a recreation center. Baddour says he knew Rice, as he knows many of his neighbors and some of the officers who have patrolled here. Ideastream's Tony Ganzer posed to Baddour the question that will begin every piece in this series: what should community policing look like, and how far are we from it?
BADDOUR: “Community policing is a great thing, is good things. How far are we from it? We could be as close as hair thin and we could be as far as the ocean. It’s up to our attitude and our mentality, how we’re going to approach it. Personally I supported it, and I’m willing to help with it, because I have a good relationship with the police and I have a good relationship with the teenagers. That is the problem: it is, in my opinion, not black and the police. It is teenagers and the police, somehow they are afraid of each other.”
GANZER: So you think it’s more generational than racial?
BADDOUR: “More generational, that’s what I think, yes. I work with teenagers, black and white. When they walk by me, ‘Hello Mr. Baddour,’ all of them. I mean, you know, I love that, I respect that, I respect them back. And I have good relation with the police, I have too many friends with them.”
GANZER: Do you like what you’re seeing so far with the consent decree with the Department of Justice, and reforms that are starting?
BADDOUR: “Of course, because as I said, I have too many friends with the Cleveland police department. They are honest, they are good, they have conscience, they leave home in the morning and want to go back to their families, and they don’t want to hurt—but there are some who they act like macho men. And those, they need to be forced into reform. They don’t like it, but, too bad.”
Baddour is fast on the phone, and begins to contact neighbors who all have something to say about the police. Frank Caffrey says his views on community policing are best given in examples of things he doesn’t like:
CAFFREY: “In January, it was morning, I was doing the dishes. My brother came down, and he was at the door, and I remember my brother was like, ‘Whoa!’ And there was a policeman with a gun at his face, right in his face. Right then, another policeman came from my backyard and told this one, ‘oh, there’s nothing happening here, let’s go.’ And they just took off. And we were like, you know, ‘what’s going on?!’ Absolutely ignored us.”
GANZER: So you think that we’re far from being where we need to be, in terms of the community dealing with…
CAFFREY: “Oh yeah, they won’t even talk to you. They won’t even answer a simple question like ‘why do you have a gun in my face.’ You know, I mean, and then you wave hi to them and you’re 10 feet away and they just look at you like they’re disgusted with you, and just keep going. I don’t get it, I just don’t. I used to always respect the officers and stuff, but now I just, I can’t stand them. I just can’t.”
"Baddour: 'Hey Willie, where are you on 104th…'"
Community activist Faouzi Baddour and I head next to Willie Jones’ house. Jones says he isn’t home very often, but police seem to respond when he calls. Still, he’d like to see more engagement:
JONES: “Well, I think community policing should look more like getting out of the squad cars, interacting with the public, you know, walking back the beats like they did back in the 70s and the late 80s. Just interacting with the people.”
GANZER: “Some people think that the rift between police and the community is more generational than racial. Do you agree with that?”
JONES: “I think if you hired more people of the ethnic background and stop going out in to the suburbs and getting everybody who do not live in the city, okay, and hire them first. I mean, of course they’re not used to dealing with people of ethnic background, they come from a different type of culture. And if you have two different types of culture, or three different types of culture in the city, and you’re not properly trained to deal with that, fear is going to set in. When you come up against certain situations, and you’re out there alone, and the camera’s just rolling, you’ve got to be able to think, you know.”
GANZER: “Are you optimistic at all for what we see coming down the pike: we’ve got this consent decree, a lot of talk about reform in how Cleveland police do business, but [also] the city at large does business. Are you optimistic for all that?”
JONES: “I am. I always believe that change begins with the head, okay, and if the head’s not operating correctly how can the body function correctly? Okay? And right now our head is not working correctly, and there needs to be some changes.”
Jones says getting younger people involved in politics may be part of the solution in transforming neighborhoods.
JONES: “You know, when I first moved here to Cleveland, I used to always ask the question ‘why do the minority neighborhoods look like they look?’ I’ve always asked that question. You’ve got the telephone wires hanging all over the place, and all this chaos, and the streets are all messed up. But you go out into the suburbs, and you see it looking totally different. I mean, you are a product of what your neighborhood looks like, you know, I’m a firm believer of that. Change, I do believe, begins at home, okay, but also you’ve got to have some role models in your neighborhood, and a lot of role models begin with who we put in office.”
The role of politics in the community’s relationship with the police came up again and again among the residents of the Cudell neighborhood I spoke to, including Terri Pohorence. She says the neighborhood has come a long way from how it was in decades past, though there’s work to do:
POHORENCE: “Now I don’t think it’s bad, but the city and the councilmen have to understand that we have to live here, and we know what needs to be done, and somebody that lives two or three blocks, or a mile away, is not going to know what we need to have done.”
GANZER: Are you optimistic for the consent decree, and the reforms that appear to be moving forward with Cleveland police?
POHORENCE: “Well, I’m optimistic that they’re gathering a panel of people from outside, I don’t know, the government, or whatever. I’ve actually applied for a position on that, myself. And we’ll just have to see how it progresses, because historically when these groups are formed, the politicians try to get in there and direct it however they want it. If they leave it alone, it will be great. But if they try to micromanage everything, if they try to pull politics and make it a political thing, it’s not going to work any better than the stuff recently has been working.”
That was Terri Pohorence, preceded by Willie Jones, Frank Caffrey, and Faouzi Baddour, all residents of the Cudell neighborhood of Cleveland, giving their perspectives on community policing.
Find more parts of this series here, including a conversation with the head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, Stephen Loomis.