Family members who lost loved ones to police action speak at community meeting on Consent Decree
by Rich Weiss
(Plain Press, August 2021) Four local community members who lost loved ones to Cleveland Police Department (CPD) use-of-force were the Zoom panelists for the June public input meeting on the Cleveland Consent Decree. United Way of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP co-sponsored this and five previous public conversations on the Consent Decree and its ramifications for our Cleveland communities.
The Cleveland Consent Decree is a court-enforceable agreement that resulted from an investigation into the CPD by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. The DOJ is the agency of the federal government that has the authority to investigate and prosecute alleged violations of citizens’ constitutional rights by the CPD.
After a 21-month investigation, the DOJ found the CPD had engaged in a pattern of excessive force. The Cleveland Consent Decree was agreed upon by the City of Cleveland and the DOJ to “…repair community trust and protect the constitutional rights of the people of the City of Cleveland.” The Consent Decree was signed into effect by Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. and the DOJ on June 12, 2015. The agreement mandates “…the City will file a status report every six months thereafter while this agreement is in effect.”
The agreement also calls on “the community” of Cleveland to be a part of the reform process by serving on various Consent Decree committees and/or by attending local community meetings such as this to share concerns and real-life experiences from the community, and for the community to make recommendations for policy change.
Alicia Kirkman was asked to be a panelist at the June public meeting on the Cleveland Consent Decree because her son, Angelo Miller, died in 2007 in an incident involving CPD use-of-force. Kirkman told the Zoom attendees, “Angelo was my everything. Angelo was 17 years old, and I was still dropping Angelo off at high school and Angelo would still give me a kiss like he was still my 5-year-old. Still that loving, funny Angelo, he brought joy to all of us, to my whole family. And he had two sons—Angelo was a father and his two sons didn’t get a chance to know their father. I continue to fight for justice. I want murder charges against the officer that killed Angelo. We need charges. The whole thing—when it comes to settlements and the families being paid—we need cops to be charged with murder. If we get more charged with murder, they’ll stop killing. They’ll stop killing.”
Brenda Bickerstaff also spoke as a panelist at the June public meeting on the Cleveland Consent Decree. Her brother, Craig Bickerstaff, was killed in an incident involving CPD use-of-force in 2002. Bickerstaff offered her perspective on police reform to the Consent Decree meeting participants: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: until a judge in this county starts sending these white officers who kill these black people to the penitentiary, they’re going to keep doing it…when you start sending these officers to the penitentiary—and let them know that they are not above the law—this is when we’re going to start getting change. I’m a part of the Citizens for a Safer Cleveland; I believe in that, I want that, we need that. We need accountability along with consequences. Remember that: accountability for your actions, and consequences for [the results of] what you’ve done—that’s what has to be done. We have to send out a stern message…a stern message just like Minnesota did when they convicted officer Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd in front of the whole nation.”
Samaria Rice spoke as one of the four family member panelists for the Cleveland Consent Decree June public input meeting on Zoom. Her son, Tamir Rice, died in an incident involving CPD use-of-force in 2014, in the midst of the 21-month DOJ investigation on CPD use-of-force. In her first opportunity to address the group, Rice called for reforming bias in the official and public portrayals of those who lose their lives to CPD use-of-force. She said, “I don’t know how anyone can demonize a 12-year-old’s character. It is not my fault—or anybody’s fault—that the system is broken and corrupt. Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback need to be convicted of murder of my 12-year-old son. Timothy Loehmann was found to be unfit (and not even trainable) to be a police officer so I can’t even understand why he keeps trying to get his job back. The consent decree is very weak. I have talked to many people about it. One thing we would like to see—and I would like to see—is a special unit that deals with domestic problems. Secondly, these officers need to understand the sociology—the human brain aspect—of dealing with another human being.
“Another thing I want to say is that when it comes to the United Way, and the Cleveland NAACP, and other institutions around the city as well: we need you to speak more to these public officials. You are in this with us, you are our community people as well. It’s not just on activists and families to fight the system, that’s not what this is about. It’s for everybody to be fighting against the system. You all have grandchildren, sons, and daughters. Everybody should be on board with Citizens for a Safer Cleveland. Everyone should be on board in the city of Cleveland, every organization. You all should be tired of spending money and tax dollars on these settlements, you all should be tired. My family has been destroyed. It has been a struggle every day to deal with what I have to deal with and for Tamir to be global; and I never asked for none of this. It’s a struggle every day for me.
“We need accountability, you know. We need accountability. Accountability for us from a system that has been broken for many, many years, looks like conviction for us. At the end of the day, they are human beings. Just because they put on that uniform, and that badge and gun…they’re…like one of us at the end of the day. At the end of the day, how does the Police Bill of Rights trump Constitutional rights? It needs to be [about] accountability. They need to be held accountable, period.
“If it was up to me, we would have a whole new system in this country, but I am aware of who I am, and they know exactly who we are. Until we get together—and come together as one, and let them know that this is a corporation that we need to be separated from—they’re going to continue to do the things that they do to us. I don’t want you all here to feel sorry for us…or just to try and comfort us—we need accountability.
“My fear…I want to make sure another mother doesn’t have to go through this. You know what I’m saying? We want accountability; we don’t just want ‘Doughnuts With Cops’ [a police youth outreach program] or empty promises with politicians. We don’t want that. This is a community effort. We all need to be on one page—how are we going to get anything changed in the City of Cleveland if we’re not on one page?”
Bernadette Rolen also spoke as a panelist at the June public meeting on the Cleveland Consent Decree. Her son, Daniel Ficker died in an incident involving CPD use-of-force in 2011.
“…The officers are still walking out there. They’re free. They’re free to live their life the way they want to live their life. They committed a crime as far as I’m concerned. They did a report, and in that report they found that the officer should have been terminated; that didn’t happen. Yes, they definitely should have been charged with murder, and I agree with the three women that spoke ahead of me that they should be charged with murder.
“They were Cleveland police officers—my son lived in Parma, he was at his home in Parma. They crossed a line into Parma—one of them was on-duty, one of them was off-duty. Justice would be seeing those police officers paying for the crimes that they’ve committed, some sort of consequence for what they did. What they did was wrong. They didn’t even get disciplined for what they did.
“That was a long, tough fight and a settlement—all that settlement did was put his children in a good position…for the rest of their life. They don’t have their father here, that’s more important than any money can be to anybody.
“They’ve never apologized, they’ve never come forward…no one has come and apologized, said anything to me, acknowledged that something happened. You can’t just bury it under a rug, which I know they hope to do…that’s a family member, you took their life.
“I think it’s so very important that whether it be the mayor, whether it be somebody in the Cleveland Police Department, a representative or somebody: come to the family and apologize to the family. The Cleveland Police should not be investigating the Cleveland Police. There needs to be some sort of third party involved when there’s a police shooting. I don’t know how they can investigate each other. That, to me, is completely wrong.”
Editor’s Note: This month’s community conversation on the Consent Decree will be on August 11th at 6:00 pm. To answer the call for your input, your concerns, and your questions, register for this or any of the five remaining Consent Decree public meetings by visiting unitedwaycleveland.org. The Neighborhood and Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland is providing monthly reports on a series of community conversations about the 2015 Consent Decree negotiated between the US Department of Justice and the City of Cleveland regarding the policies and practices of the Cleveland Police Department. Rich Weiss is vice president of the Neighborhood and Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland and publisher of The Tremonster. Michael Jankus, Interim Content Editor for Neighborhood Media Foundation, contributed significantly to this report.