By Mansfield Frazier
State Representative (and former Cleveland City Councilman) Bill Patmon is arguably one of the more talented and brighter men to ever roam the corridors of City Hall. However, when he lost his Council seat back in 2001, in spite of his talent and experience, he never got a return phone call as he sought out some position in the private, quasi-public, media or governmental sector. Eventually, my then-councilwoman Fannie Lewis did offer him a position in her ward office after expressing anger and complete dismay over how he was being treated by the establishment.
Now, anyone who pays any attention at all to local (or statewide for that matter) politics knows that had Patmon been white (and even if he had happened to be as dumb as a box of rocks, as long as he was white), his years of dedicated public service would have assured him a soft landing … somewhere. It always does for white dudes after they leave office, but it rarely, if ever, works that way for black elected officials. Locally, we have the vaunted Democratic Party to thank for this tradition.
So, while some might find the re-appointment of Councilman Ken Johnson to his seat on Council onerous, until the playing field is leveled and the same opportunities are offered to black elected officials after their tenure is up (or until the State Legislature makes changes), I really don’t have a problem with how this went down. Fair is fair all over the world.
Cops As Cowboys
Awhile back, an acquaintance (who just happened to be African-American) casually stated to me that for years he had been a close neighbor of then-incoming Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer, and that in his estimation the officer was truly a decent human being. I took him at his word, and after years of dealing with that chowder head Steve Loomis, I felt that virtually anyone would be an improvement… or at least I thought so at the time.
Now, with the 137 shots incident, Follmer is being placed in the position of attempting to defend the indefensible. In the face of overwhelming circumstantial evidence, he has to attempt to convince citizens to suspend all logic, sanity and reason and buy into the bullshit he has to try to spread. And if he doesn’t spread it with alacrity he’s out of a job.
If the union boss has any kind of conscience at all he must be tossing and turning in his bed night after night over the statements he’s forced to make in defense of the actions of officers he — in all probability — is ashamed of. Who wouldn’t be ashamed? So, in a sense, Follmer becomes another victim of the shooting, with his conscience in all probability kicking his ass to hell and back.
After the recent video surfaced showing literally dozens of police cars joining in the chase (against departmental rules, I might add), Follmer made the statement “we’re safe in numbers” … a comment that cannot pass the straight face test. If it takes that many officers to do anything other than stop a riot — if the officers are so afraid they have to form a rolling vigilante posse — perhaps they all need to find other employment.
What’s emerging from all of this scrutiny is clear evidence of a police department totally out of control. When one female officer was told to disengage from the chase, she radioed back something that amounted to her telling a superior officer “fuck off, I’ll do whatever I goddamn well please.” She continued the chase but it isn’t clear if she was in on the kill. Reason would seemingly dictate that if departmental rules were followed, the incident, in all probability, would not have occurred — or if shots were fired there would not have been 137 of them.
The extant culture in the Cleveland Police Department cries out for federal intervention. Routine disrespect of their superiors on the part of officers is not an anomaly with this police force, it’s more the norm. And if rank and file officers don’t respect higher ups in the department, you know the average citizen ain’t got nothin’ coming in terms of respect.
Cops feel they can do what they damn well please, secure in the fact nothing will happen to them … and judging from history, they are right. In over 4,000 incidents in recent years they’ve been found to be in the right every time. How can you top perfection?
When the story first broke back in late November, a photo appeared in the PD of the cops holding a meeting at their union hall. The sea of all white faces was, to many in the African-American community, reminiscent of photos of a Klan rally. And there was a reason all of the officers in the photo were white … the black officers have a separate organization, the Black Shield. Why two separate unions? Because years ago the white officers did not (and probably still don’t) want black officers in their union and they let them know it. The photo, taken in a majority black city, is sickening … and part of the root cause of the problems that exist between police and residents.
In African-American communities like my neighborhood of Hough, the police act more like an army of occupation than peace officers — and in this respect Cleveland is similar to many other American cities with large black populations. Again, this is why federal intervention is so necessary. These cities cannot cure their own cancer.
Allow me to go back to the issue of culture for a moment. Right around the time supposed “super cop” Jim Simone was set to retire, I had four high-ranking Cleveland police officers in my backyard eating ribs (I really do make the best baby backs in the entire state, no kidding). Two were white, one was black, and the fourth Hispanic. Before anyone launches an investigation … they all were on their lunch breaks and had a right to be where they were, doing what they were doing.
Two or three of them read my columns on a fairly regular basis, so they know my positions (which sometimes I debate with them), but since we’re all mature individuals we’re still great friends in spite of our frequent differences of opinions in some policing matters.
But I couldn’t help but raise the question as to why this guy Simone was being feted as a hero because he shot and killed five people during his career. That says something tragic about the kind of cultural morass we currently live in.
All of them candidly agreed that most officers, during their careers, will eventually be presented with the opportunity to justifiably shoot someone in the line of duty. But they also were in agreement that virtually all officers, unless they have no other option, choose not to take a life — and I believe them. Most officers are not looking to kill someone.
But they also admitted there were a few officers of the force like Simone, who know the rule book very well and know when (and under what circumstances) they can kill someone and get away with it because it will be ruled “justifiable” — which doesn’t make it any less morally reprehensible. A civil rights attorney I know characterizes such officers as “serial killers with badges and guns.”
Yes, sadly, such animals do exist. The psychological exams officers have to take are not foolproof … some sick puppies do slip through, and they tend to infect other officers (and sometimes the general public) with their twisted thinking. That’s how Simone became a hero.
But here’s the most troubling part: Officers like Simone (with their obvious propensity to be trigger happy) are known to everyone on the force and yet nothing is done about them; they are allowed to continue to get away with legalized murder, and good people like Jeff Follmer have to make excuses for them, which, of course, empowers them to be on the lookout for the right opportunity to kill again. In other words, defenders become enablers.
It would seem that after the second killing by Simone senior officers would have been taking a hard look at his tactics and psychological profile; if not by the second killing, then assuredly by the third. But no, instead of forcing him behind a desk in the interest of saving lives, they allowed Simone to remain on the street … and they had to know more deaths would follow. And Simone wasn’t a racist; he’d bust a cap in anybody’s ass that he caught out of pocket.
Follmer may very well be the fine human being my acquaintance says he is; I know for sure that both Safety Director Marty Flask and Chief McGrath are fine and decent human beings. But they can’t be out there in every police car, so the rules they’ve formulated have to be obeyed if we’re going to avoid another police mini riot. And, as we by now have clear and compelling evidence of, that’s simply not the case. Again, absent federal intervention no changes will occur. These cowboys can’t be reigned in at the local level … it’s going to take the feds stepping in and cleaning up this department.
NOTE: For updates on the case go to http://137shots.com.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://www.NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.