Almost one year after video footage captured two Cleveland police officers shooting and killing Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy, Cleveland prosecutors only recently convened a grand jury to determine whether the officers should be charged. Tamir was killed within a matter of two seconds while playing with a toy pellet gun on a playground outside of a community recreational center.
“The delay in deciding whether to charge the officers who killed young Tamir, who by all accounts did not pose a threat to anyone, does nothing to repair the damaged relationship between Cleveland police and the communities they are charged to protect and serve,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF.) “The prosecutor’s decision to release at this stage expert reports stating that the officers’ actions were reasonable also undermines public trust in the justice system.”
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty has stated that he released the reports in an effort to conduct an open and transparent grand jury process, instead of the more secretive process that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri following the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. The city erupted in unrest after the officer in that case was not indicted.
“The apparent lack of accountability for police violence and misconduct against persons of color fosters the perception that the police are above the law,” said Monique Dixon, Deputy Policy Director and Senior Counsel at LDF. “The best way to ensure a transparent investigation is the appointment of a special prosecutor as requested by Tamir’s family and Cleveland residents.”
LDF has supported calls for special prosecutors in , Missouri and . And, in an effort to build trust between communities and police, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing also has endorsed the use of independent prosecutors for reviewing cases involving police officers’ use of deadly force.
This type of external review of the actions of Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) officers is appropriate given the U.S. Justice Department’s recent finding that there is a pattern or practice of officers using unreasonable force, including firing their guns at persons who do not pose a threat to themselves or others. These and other findings resulted in a settlement agreement between the CDP and the Justice Department, which requires the Division to adopt a number of reforms including use of force policies based on de-escalation techniques; bias-free principles for policing; and improved officer training.
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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.