On November 22, 2014, my 12-year-old cousin Tamir Rice was shot by Cleveland police. He was playing in the park and posed no threat. After shooting him, the officers didn’t bother to render first aid or check for signs of life. He died the next day.
Seven years later, we still haven’t gotten justice. In the meantime, our trauma lives on. The image of Tamir’s murder, shown on local and national television for years, is etched in our minds.
My family is not alone. There are more than 70 families in our city who’ve lost a loved one to police violence since 1989. This fall, we have a historic opportunity to win justice for all of them: Issue 24, the Safer Cleveland initiative on the November ballot.
Issue 24 would support independent investigations of police in cases of misconduct. It would hold officers accountable for their actions, rather than giving them a slap on the wrist and paid time off. It would put them on the same footing as doctors, attorneys, and judges—none of whom get to police themselves.
Our movement for a Safer Cleveland was born out of our shared experiences. As we’ve struggled through grief and trauma, we’ve realized we’re not alone. We’ve connected with each other, broken bread with each other, and built a kinship that advocates for justice together.
Some families have been fighting for even longer. Alicia Kirkman lost her son, 17-year-old Angelo Miller, in 2007. Brenda Bickerstaff lost her brother, Craig, in 2002. Some, such as Emmanuel Franklin, have come into the fold more recently. His son, Desmond, was murdered last year. With the stress, depression, and grief that we carry, not everyone is able to share his or her story publicly. Many are still living like it’s the day they lost their loved ones.
In 2015, the Cleveland Division of Police signed a federal consent decree with the Department of Justice, mandating a community police commission. We attended every commission meeting, sharing our stories and demanding justice for our loved ones.
As the consent decree approaches its expiration date, we’ve gotten organized. We’ve seen how the city has tried everything in its power to undermine the implementations of the consent decree, reaching compliance with only 37% of the elements of the decree. The writing is on the wall: We need a permanent commission that can enforce real accountability.
The commission has never had the powers to implement its recommendations. Its recommendations are just that—recommendations. They don’t have the power to discipline. Instead, they send their recommendations over to the police chief and public safety director, who often disregard them.
For example, in September, an officer and former police union head was disciplined for social media posts about sports figures who were outspoken about police accountability. The commission recommended a 10-day suspension after more than a year of deliberating. The public safety director threw it out—and gave him only a one-day suspension.
A safer Cleveland is a city in which citizens have oversight over our public institutions, including police. It’s a city where harm and violence can be met with justice and healing. It’s a city with thriving communities throughout, with social services ready to address homelessness, mental health, drug addiction, and poverty, without the involvement of police.
With Issue 24, we can make this Safer Cleveland a reality. Earlier this year, more than 15,000 Clevelanders signed their names to put Issue 24 on the ballot. This fall, we’ve been hosting conversations across the city to make the community aware of what the initiative is and what it will do.
On November 2, we have the power to define what makes us safe. I’ve been fighting for a Safer Cleveland. Now it’s time to vote for one. Our communities and loved ones deserve it.
For information about the Sept. 14 primary and Nov. 2 general election, including registering to vote, visit boe.cuyahogacounty.gov.
LaTonya Goldsby is the president and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland and the cousin of Tamir Rice, shot and killed by Cleveland police at age 12 in 2014.
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