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Cleveland Police Killing of Tamir Rice Pains a Mother, Renews Demands for Justice

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‘I’m still waiting on the police to tell me what happened to my baby’

By Starla Muhammad and J.A. Salaam
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call


CLEVELAND – Family, friends, clergy and community residents packed Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Cleveland to say good-bye and cherish the memory of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by Cleveland police at a recreation center on the city’s West Side, one and a half weeks earlier.

Emotional and touching tributes were shared, including sentiments from Jessica Tsoufiou, a teacher at Marion C. Seltzer Elementary School where Tamir was a student.

Pictures of the handsome bright-eyed sixth grader were adorned on several displays in front of the pulpit along with sprays of colorful flowers. One display read, “Summoned by Angels: Tamir E. Rice, Called by Name, June 15, 2002, Called by God, Nov. 23, 2014.”  Family members wore t-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with Tamir’s name and image.

Having to pause briefly at times Dec. 3 during her emotional remarks, Ms. Tsoufiou said Tamir was well liked, enjoyed helping his classmates and liked to draw and play basketball. He was a member of the drum line and though at times struggled academically, he “consistently came to school every day.” He always laughed and smiled even with students he did not know, said Ms. Tsoufiou. Though his body is not there, he will always be in my heart, she added.

“I thank you for your son’s life, he will be greatly missed,” said Ms. Tsoufiou as she looked at Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother.

Ms. Rice took a few minutes to speak with The Final Call in the midst of her pain. She wore a dark pair of shaded glasses and still seemed to be in a daze. She spoke after the funeral.

“I’m speechless, what am I supposed to say? I’m still waiting on someone to come knock on my door. I’m still waiting on the police or someone to tell me what happened to my baby. I don’t know why all I’ve seen and know is what I’ve seen on the video. There’s still nothing, aren’t a mother supposed to know when her child is acting up?” she asked.

“Somebody should have told me something. He was right across the street from the house playing like he always does. He’s part of the community center,” said Ms. Rice.

Others shared her grief and difficulty accepting the boy’s death. (See Final Call Vol. 34, No. 9).

People from across the country were in attendance sharing the pain and grief of the Rice family. Among them was Tory Russell, of Hands Up United from Ferguson, Mo. and over 500 people filled Mount Sinai Baptist Church pews.

“I came from Ferguson to let you know you are not alone and we are with you all the way. We stand with you and will fight until we get answers and justice for your son, our little brother. We are a family and we are all affected by this and it has to stop,” said Mr. Russell.

“What you have is bad apples. It’s like a family and the police department is like that. What you have are people who do evil things. You have good and bad but the good ones won’t call the bad ones or evil ones out. So you have the bad ones that make them all look bad. In my opinion they murdered that child, now it should be transparency clean it up and bring justice to the situation. Like a family they should hold him accountable, but they got that blue shield and won’t call him out,” said Michael Africa, who attended the funeral.

“It’s hard because we used to play basketball and stuff; he was a cool person; he didn’t mess with nobody, he’ll be like chillin.’ He would always laugh,” said Tamir’s 14-year-old friend Rashad Ruffin.

“I just don’t understand how can it be okay for young Black man Mike Brown, Tamir Rice to be shot and killed and nothing happens, but somebody can go to jail for killing a dog but someone can kill a Black man and just be free? I feel it’s open season, it’s sad,” added Terresa Russell.

Why did Tamir have to die?


The cause and circumstances surrounding Tamir’s death were also on the forefront of the hearts and minds of those that gathered. During the service there were vows that Tamir’s death would  not be in vain.

Tamir’s young fragile life was snuffed out like a candle in the wind, Michael Petty, his uncle told the audience. He ran down a list of accomplishments and experiences his nephew will never get to enjoy: attending a prom, getting a job, graduating high school, getting married or having children.

Mr. Petty reminded the audience since Tamir can no longer speak for himself, “we must now be his voice and his advocate through reform.” Among changes needed are the way information is relayed from 911 dispatchers to law enforcement and restructuring of police officer training nationwide, he said.

“Police officers are public servants, not James Bond with a license to kill,” said Mr. Petty, who on behalf of his family, thanked residents for their support and prayers.

Incompetent, overzealous cop?

Tamir was playing in a park at Cudell Recreation Center with a fake gun that shot non-lethal projectiles. Video recording of the incident showed Tamir pointing it at a passerby and stopping occasionally to play in the snow. According to reports, a caller reported seeing someone described as “probably a juvenile” brandishing a gun that was “probably fake” to 911. The dispatcher reportedly did not relay that information to responding officers, one of whom was Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old rookie who shot Tamir less than two seconds after the patrol car pulled into the park on Nov. 22. Tamir died the next day. The coroner listed the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the torso with injuries to major vessels, pelvis and intestines.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner ruled the boy’s death a homicide.

According to media reports, Ofc. Loehmann had a “dismal” performance as a member of the suburban Independence Police Department where he briefly worked before joining Cleveland’s police force in March. One 2012 incident described Ofc. Loehmann as “distracted and weepy” and “not mentally prepared to be doing firearm training.” He allegedly blamed his behavior on a problem he was having with his girlfriend.

According to Ofc. Loehmann’s personnel file, portions of which are posted on Cleveland.com, there were three incidents which lead to concerns about his competency. “Individually these events would not be considered major situations, but when taken together they show a pattern of a lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions,” said the file. Deputy Chief Jim Polak in a Nov. 29, 2012 letter to the human resources director of the Independence Police Department said Ofc. Loehmann displayed emotional immaturity and circumvented directions that no amount of time or training would change or correct. He was preparing to meet Ofc. Loehmann, “to advise him I was beginning the disciplinary process of separation.” The men met at a Dec. 3, 2012 meeting and Ofc. Loehmann decided to resign instead, said the letter.

Cleveland police stated they did not review the file prior to hiring Ofc. Loehmann, something longtime local activist John A. Boyd does not believe. He doubts that Tamir was a minor and the gun was fake was not relayed to the police by dispatch.

“I only say that because the way they rolled up on the child. They pulled right up on him, less than 10 feet. You clearly can see that this was not an adult and if they thought that they were in danger they would have never rolled up on the situation where there was a gun involved that close,” said Mr. Boyd, a former city council candidate.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office will determine if any charges will be filed against the officers.

“This cracker was just on a mission to kill someone Black, that’s all that was,” said Mr. Boyd.

History of brutality

Cleveland is no stranger to conflict between the Black community and police. Recent high profile cases of officer-involved shootings and allegations of brutality have dogged the department. The date Nov. 29 marked two years from what residents call “the Cleveland atrocity.”

Timothy Ray Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, both Black were killed by police when 13 officers unloaded 137 bullets into the unarmed couple’s car at the end of a high speed chase. Of the 13 officers that fired weapons 12 were White, one was Latino. That incident was investigated and Ohio’s State Attorney Mike DeWine released a comprehensive report stating there was several “systematic failures” within Cleveland’s Police Department that lead to the tragedy.

The city recently settled with the families of Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams for $3 million.

A grand jury earlier this year indicted five police supervisors and one officer as a result of the shooting. They are all currently awaiting trial.

Eight of the White officers and the Latino officer are currently suing in federal court for discrimination, breach of employment and civil rights violations.

In the two years since the shooting, the relationship between the Black community and police has not gotten much better and the death of Tamir Rice manifests distrust and anger that the community has endured for years, activists charge.

The U.S. Justice Department investigated the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force in 2000, the results were released in 2004 and called for better training of officers and improvement on how complaints of brutality and police shootings were investigated.

Dehumanizing Black children?

A study released earlier this year on a sampling of college students and police officers found both groups perceived Black boys as older than they really were and less innocent than their White counterparts.

The study, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” was  published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Blacks were seen as less innocent than Whites and people generally and for every age group older than age 9, Black children and adults were rated as significantly less innocent than White children and adults generally, said the report.

The height, weight and alleged physical strength and appearance of Trayvon Martin, 17, Mike Brown Jr., 18, and  even Eric Garner, 43, all came into play when they were described in media reports. In young Tamir’s case, the fact he was 12 and obviously a child did not come into play at all based on the police response. The Essence of Innocence study finding “suggests that Black children may be viewed as adults as soon as 13, with average age overestimations of Black children exceeding four and a half years in some cases.” Meaning a 13-year-old Black child is viewed like a 17-year-old.

“Our findings,” said the report, “suggest that, although most children are allowed to be innocent until adulthood, Black children may be perceived as innocent only until deemed suspicious.”

Cleveland resident Mariah Crenshaw has sons and when she saw the video of police shooting Tamir, her heart sunk. She pictured her children and remembers her sons playing in the park when they were little and playing at home with toy guns.

“Never in my mind did I once think boy toys would get them killed,” she said. She has seen comments posted on social media of people saying that Tamir “deserved it.”

“I can’t understand the mentality of many people who can justify what they saw on that tape. I just can’t conceive it.”

The federal and community response

After a 20-month investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder announced at a Dec. 4 press conference that the Cleveland Police Department had a history of systematic brutality and incompetence.

Attorney General Holder was joined by members of his staff, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams, both of whom are Black, in announcing the findings.

The investigation concluded there is reasonable cause to believe that Cleveland police officers engage in a pattern or practice of unreasonable and in some cases unnecessary force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, Justice Dept. officials said.

The investigation also concluded the Cleveland Police Department failed to fully and objectively investigate allegations of misconduct, identify and respond to patterns of at-risk behavior and implement effective community policing strategies.

Local activists, clergy and other groups have been meeting and strategizing on what additional steps are needed to address problems that exist between police and Cleveland’s Black residents.

“We need to look at all the options that are available to police across the country that are being used to apprehend people, American citizens whether they are Black or White … instead of using deadly force,” said Ms.  Crenshaw. “Deadly force in Cleveland, Ohio has become the only method of apprehending people in this city of African American descent.”

Ms. Crenshaw said her criticisms are not an indictment of police officers because she has family and friends in law enforcement, but  she sees the problem of injustice. She is in favor of changing the weapons cops have access to.

Anything that can be put in place in the form of laws or training to make sure police would operate fairly and justly would be helpful, said Mr. Boyd. He is not overly optimistic. Law enforcement and judges function from their personal biases and racism, said Mr. Boyd.

“I don’t care how much training you give these crackers, you’re not going to change their heart, because that’s where it’s at … you can’t legislate people’s hearts,” said Mr. Boyd.

A copy of the Justice Department report on the Cleveland Division of Police is available at www.documentcloud.org/documents/1375050-doc.html

(Follow Final Call Assistant Editor  Starla Muhammad on Twitter: @simplystarla23. Follow Final Call writer J.A. Salaam on Twitter: @drjasalaam).

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to Probe Death of Police Shooting Victim Akai Gurley

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Daily News


To the New York Police Department the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley in the dark stairwell of a public housing project in Brooklyn was an accident but Brooklyn’s District attorney, Ken Thompson, wants to find out for himself what really happened last month.

As at least 150 mourners were getting ready for a funeral service at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church and to bury the victim hours later, the newly elected DA promised Gurley’s relatives, civil rights activists and others interested in the spate of fatal shootings of young Black men in New York and the rest of the country by white police officers that his office would conduct a thorough and independent probe into what led to the fatal shooting of the 28 year old father by a rookie cop, Peter Liang. Thompson is expected to call Liang before a grand jury the DA plans to impanel to hear evidence. The cop claimed his gun went off accidentally while he was holding a flashlight in one hand in the pitch-dark stairwell of the Pink Houses project while carrying his upholstered gun in another on the night of November 20th.

“An unfortunate accident,” was the way Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described the shooting which was on a list of several police killings of Black males in New York and other parts of the country this year.

Hundreds of thousands of people in many of the nation’s major cities have taken to the streets to protest the killings, Gurley’s among them, calling for justice for the victims’ families.

Sylvia Palmer, the dead man’s mother, has joined those calling for a probe of the shooting and an indictment of the police officer, saying, “there’s nothing in this world that can heal my pain and my heartache. I need justice for my son because my son didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Kimberley Ballinger, the mother of Gurley’s two year old daughter, added her voice to the calls for justice.

“”We want justice. I want to see an indictment,” said Ballinger.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network, a major civil rights organization with headquarters in Harlem has joined in the demands for an investigation, even after he dropped plans to attend the Saturday morning funeral service that was also attended by Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Council member Inez Barron, and her husband, Charles Barron, the newly elected East New York State Assemblyman.

“It’s very painful for the family,” the Assemblyman-elect Barron told a City newspaper a few days ago.

The Rev. Sharpton, who was originally scheduled to address mourners at the funeral service decided to bow out of the proceedings after his announced involvement triggered a split in the Gurley family. He had been invited to speak at Ballinger’s invitation but he withdrew after some relatives objected.

“I don’t want to get in the middle of it,” meaning a family dispute, said the Rev. Sharpton who has vowed to continue speaking for justice for the family

The Rev. Dennis Dillon, a prominent church leader and publisher of the Christian Times newspaper described Gurley’s death as a real tragedy.

Spelman College Suspends Bill Cosby Chair in Wake of Rape Allegations

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By Terry Shropshire
Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World


Iconic HBCU powerhouse Spelman College, which once receive a $20 million gift from comedy legend Bill Cosby, has now suspended The Cosby Chair for the Humanities indefinitely until the score of rape allegations get resolved.

The Cosby Chair is an endowed professorship at the all-female, predominantly-black college in Atlanta, which was subsidized by the Bill and Camille Cosby honorarium to the school in the 1980s.

Spelman had previously refused to comment nor suspend the chair previously, despite the almost daily allegations of sexual assault claims against the venerated comedian and former star behind the record-breaking “Cosby Show.” However, the stakes were raised exponentially when former supermodel Beverly Johnson gave a painstakingly detailed account to a major magazine stating that Cosby allegedly drugged her at his home in an effort to rape her.

The accumulation of allegations against Cosby has proven to be too much for the esteemed all-female black college in Atlanta.

“The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life,” a school spokeswoman said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”

The deconstruction of Cosby’s legend and seemingly infallible image has been spectacular as it has been tragic. Spelman suspension of the Cosby Chair follows his resignation from the board of trustees at Temple University after 32 years and as an honorary co-chair of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s capital campaign. High Point University in North Carolina removed Cosby from its national board of advisers, and the Berklee School of Music stopped granting a scholarship in his name.

The donation subsidized the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D. Academic Center, which houses the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, the college archives and offices.

Protest Movement Goes Global

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By Rebecca Rivas
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American


Growing up in Brooklyn, 20-year-old Keeshan Harley has been frisked more than 150 times since he was 13, he said. He often chooses to stay home rather than chance an encounter with police, he said, where he could be stuck in the back of a cop car for an hour. Even a walk down the block to the corner store can end in being roughed up by police for no reason, he said.

When the Brooklyn college student heard that Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, he immediately felt drawn to come to Ferguson.

“Everything in my body said it’s where I needed to be,” said Harley, youth leader with the New York-based nonprofit Make the Road. “There was that innate sense of urgency. Being a young black male, I understand what that’s like. That could have been me just walking home from the store.”

Harley came to St. Louis in October for the Weekend of Resistance. What he experienced, he said, helped prepare him and other New York organizers for this week of protests following the December 3 grand jury’s non-indictment decision of a New York City police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The importance of spontaneity was one of the crucial things they learned in Ferguson, he said.

“Understanding that things don’t have to be followed in a rigid way, where there’s one person speaking,” he said. “In Ferguson, there was a profound sense of responsibility. The people were fed up. If someone said, ‘Meet up at 9 p.m. in Shaw,’ the people just knew they needed to go.”

The Ferguson movement’s hallmark element of spontaneity hit new levels last week as thousands of protestors worldwide walked out of schools, shut down highways, occupied retail spaces and took to the streets to demand police accountability.

The day of the grand jury’s announcement in the Garner case, thousands poured into the streets and marched throughout Manhattan. They caused lanes to be closed on the Brooklyn Bridge, West Side Highway and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.

“None of that was planned,” said Carl Dix, co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. “People came out in anger and figured out what they were going to do.”

Several groups also staged mass die-ins in other parts of New York City, drawing from what they’ve seen in Ferguson, said Dix, who also participated in Ferguson October.

The St. Louis activist group Tribe X – which has since splintered into Black Souljahz – orchestrated the first Ferguson die-in action on November 16 in the University City Loop. It has now spread nationally as a staple of the movement.

Tribe X president Alisha Sonnier said in all the actions they have led, including the historic occupation of Saint Louis University’s campus, “You have to be flexible and let the action take its course. Spontaneity is our friend.”

This week, New York organizers have called for a “Week of Outrage.” On Monday morning, activists stormed the Verrazano Bridge during rush hour and carrying banners that read “Eric Garner,” “Mike Brown” and “Black Lives Matter.” They also laid coffins on the freeway, which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn. The shutdown was symbolic because many NYPD officers travel to work from Staten Island, where Garner was killed.

“Someone can tweet, ‘Meet me at Union Square at 6 p.m.,’ and even that has been a successful tool,” said Jose Lopez, lead organizer with Make the Road. “There have been so many groups and individuals organizing actions daily. There are folks using different tactics. It’s partially why we will be able to sustain the movement.”

Lopez was among a handful of young organizers who met with President Barack Obama on December 1 regarding issues of police brutality. In New York, the public safety conversation has largely been focused on investing money into the police department and precincts.

“And that’s the wrong conversation to be had,” Lopez said. “If we have funding that could be spent, is it not better to resource individuals and organizations and cultural institutions that are more responsible for the safety of the community than a local precinct might be? How do we deal with the fact that people of color are targeted, stopped and frisked daily?”

Dante Barry, executive director of the New York-based Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, has traveled to Ferguson about seven times since Brown’s death. NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner in a chokehold on July 17, less than a month before Brown’s shooting death. However, the reaction that New York witnessed in Ferguson “helped propel” their own response, said Barry. Million Hoodies was started after Trayvon Martin’s death.

“Ferguson provides a model for what resistance can look like,” Barry said. “We are seeing a collective response all across this country that is recognizing that direct action is the avenue to go to change culture but also to have a conversation.”

Barry is fighting for two things. First, he wants an end to “broken-windows policing,” where police arrest people of color for petty crimes, such as selling loose cigarettes or falling asleep on the subway. And second, he wants demilitarization of police.

“In every sense, Ferguson is everywhere,” he said. “You can see conditions that you see in Ferguson all across the country.”

DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie were among two Ferguson protestors who traveled to New York after the grand jury’s decision, as a way to return the support they received in Ferguson. Mckesson said it was humbling to see Ferguson-originated actions play out among thousands of people and amid the city’s skyscrapers. He learned a lot from New Yorkers, as well, he said.

Like many activists, Mckesson expressed the importance of a decentralized movement.

“The power structure doesn’t want to deal with all of us,” McKesson said. “You cannot co-op one person and say, ‘Stop the protests.’ It makes them responsible to the people en masse.”

What was so amazing about Ferguson, Barry said, was that so much of the community rose up.

“There’s always a role for someone in this movement,” Barry said. “It’s not about having a chairperson. It’s about having low ego and high impact. It’s an issue that affects a lot of folks, and it’s organic.”

And it will be the people who continue to lead the movement, Harley said.

“The community will escalate things until something systemic and substantive has changed, until we see our police officers are held to high esteem,” Harley said. “I don’t think there’s one young black male in Brooklyn who isn’t fed up and ready to yell through the streets. We are not going to be overlooked. And we are not going anywhere.”

Buju Banton Seeks Early Release from US Prison

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – Grammy winning reggae artist Buju Banton, who was convicted on cocaine trafficking charges in 2011, has filed a motion in court in an attempt to secure an earlier release date.

The Tampa Bay Tribune reports that Buju,whose given name is Mark Myrie, filed his own motion from prison asking to be released early based on a recent change in federal drug sentencing guidelines.

This would mean an earlier release date and deportation to Jamaica.

Buju is currently serving a mandatory ten-year sentence for his conviction on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

He is scheduled to be released in 2019.

However, the amendments do not apply to those serving minimum mandatory sentences under the law.

This would only be possible where the convicts cooperate with investigators or at give a full confession to their crimes.

According to the paper, this is unlikely to happen, as Buju has maintained his innocence since being arrested.

Buju was convicted in February 2011, days after he won a Grammy award for his album, “Before the Dawn.”

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