"Us Against Them"

[Content Note: Police misconduct and brutality.]

Today, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division released a "pattern or practice" report on the Cleveland Police Department's use of force, one of whose officers shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice last month. The investigation began in March 2013, at the mayor's request, following an incident in which a police chase "resulted in Cleveland police dispatching at least 62 vehicles, firing 137 bullets, and killing two unarmed black suspects, who each sustained more than 20 gunshot wounds."

The report found an almost unfathomably frequent use of unjustifiable and excessive force:
The agency's investigation found that officers in Cleveland routinely use unjustifiable force against not only criminals and suspects, but also innocent victims of crimes.

...Most recently, on November 22, a Cleveland police officer fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a park. Footage of the incident shows the officer firing his gun within two seconds of pulling up to the boy in his car. The Guardian reported on Thursday that Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir, was judged unfit for police work in 2012 by his then-employer, the police department of Independence, Ohio. An Independence official described Loehmann's "dismal" handgun performance in an internal memo.

According to the DOJ report, Cleveland police officers "carelessly fire their weapons, placing themselves, subjects, and bystanders at unwarranted risk of serious injury or death." For example, the agency pointed to an incident in 2011 where officers "fired 24 rounds in a residential neighborhoods," with six rounds striking houses and 14 hitting parked cars. In another case, "an officer's decision to draw his gun while trying to apprehend an unarmed hit-and-run suspect resulted in him accidentally shooting the man in the neck."

The Justice Department also claimed to have identified "several cases" where "officers shot or shot at people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or others." For example, in 2013, the report noted that police shot at a kidnapping victim after he fled from his assailants wearing only his boxers. The sergeant said he believed the victim had a weapon because he raised his hand.

In another case detailed by the Justice Department, a 300-pound officer punched a 13-year-old boy who was handcuffed inside a police car and kicking the door. The officer, whom the report describes as 8 inches taller than the boy, punched him "three to four times" until he was "'stunned/dazed' and had a bloody nose."
The investigation also found that supervisory reviews of the force incidents "is superficial at best and, at its worst, appears to be designed to justify their subordinates' unreasonable use of force."

Further, the investigation concluded that there is a militaristic, antagonistic culture within the force: "The report also said that the culture of the Cleveland police force promotes an 'us-against-them' mentality. It cited the example of a sign in one district station that identifies the station as a 'forward operating base'—which DOJ noted is a military term for a small outpost in a war zone."

This cruelty reverberates through communities, and does not make anyone safer.

As I noted during coverage of the murder of Jonathan Ferrell, the 24-year-old black North Carolina man who was shot and killed by police after knocking on a door for help following a car accident: If a man unknown to me comes knocking at my door in the middle of the night seeking help, I don't want to feel like if I call authorities ostensibly equipped with providing the aid he's seeking that I'm risking his life.

Police routinely tell members of their communities to call them when a stranger needs help. When anyone needs help. But how can we safely help someone we believe is in genuine need by calling police, when police harming them is a potential result?

Us against them. When police are enemies of the community, or parts of the community, we're well and truly fucked.

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