MANSFIELD: Meet Sgt. Johnny Hamm

By Mansfield Frazier

If every cop in the City of Cleveland was like Sgt. Johnny Hamm, there would be no need for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to be at a meeting at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church at 8712 Quincy Ave., on Tue 6/11 from 6:30 to 8:30pm. In fact, if every cop were like Sgt. Hamm, the feds wouldn’t even be in Cleveland.

The flier I received via email stated that local clergy will host the meeting between the DOJ and the community as part of the investigation of allegations of excessive force that have been lodged against officers of Cleveland’s Division of Police. I’m just guessing here, but odds are the church will be packed to overflowing.

Indeed, citizens of Cleveland, especially minorities, have been waiting a long, long, time for someone in a position of authority to ameliorate the situation to give them a fair hearing — in fact, too long. Undoubtedly years of frustration at being voiceless has created a huge store of pent-up emotions that are bound to spill forth in torrents as residents vent their anger.

The risk, of course, is that some folks won’t be able to resist the temptation to add a little (or maybe even a lot of) yeast to their tales of confrontations with police … despite the fact the truth — in many cases — is already horrible enough.

Made-up stories of cops pistol-whipping handcuffed five-year-old black kids, or of an officer kicking the cane out of the hand of an octogenarian (causing her to tumble into the street where she was almost run over by an 18-wheeler) could be recounted with passion so gripping the tales are almost believable. Truth can become a casualty at a meeting such as this.

And, of course there will be the contingency of usual suspects in attendance; those loud, loose-lipped camera and microphone whores who always grab the microphone at such gatherings and attempt to dominate the conversation … often taking it in a direction that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand. I virtually guarantee you that someone will take this opportunity to bring up the fact that over a decade ago the law was changed to allow for an appointed school board, as opposed to an elected one. Horrors. Nonetheless I’m somewhat sympathetic to these over-the-top folks since it isn’t often they get a chance to be heard.

On the other hand, there is the distinct possibility the entire event is being staged as a grand charade … a dog and pony show put on simply to allow folks to blow off steam. And the fact that some of the members of the police union will be hanging around the rear of the church (perhaps taking note of who is making the loudest allegations against them) is a distinct possibility. It probably would be a good idea if the chief or police and safety director stayed away from this meeting.

If, by chance, I get the opportunity to speak (provided, of course, I haven’t already left in total disgust), I’ll thank the feds for coming to Cleveland and acknowledge that any solutions they might be able to effect will fall far short of what is necessary, through no fault of theirs. The problem is too big and too systemic.

The trouble lies in the way policing has come to be carried out in America. The “us versus them” attitude so prevalent on big city departments is a phenomenon of the last half century … and unfortunately the division between the police and the citizenry will only deepen in the short term, perhaps for the next decade or so.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re living in the middle of a period of great transition in America. The country is moving leftward and those on the right — including the police who are assigned the task of holding the line (maintaining the status quo) — are increasingly nervous. They feel power slipping away, they no longer can dominate, and they don’t know what to do about it — so quite naturally they get angry … and angry people lash out, sometimes violently, especially if you have a badge, gun and virtual license to kill.

At its core, that’s what the 137 shots and other such incidents are all about: the manifestation … the releasing of pent-up white angst.

The solution is simple, but hard to accomplish: A wholesale change in who does the policing in many of our neighborhoods. A city that’s approaching 70 percent minority population with only 30 percent of the officers being minorities is a receipt for disaster.

In an out-of-control department like Cleveland’s, where officers seemingly do as they damn well please, having an overwhelming percentage of white officers (many of them young, from the suburbs, and patrolling inner-city streets like they are a member of an army of occupation) will continually result in violent and deadly outcomes. Twelve of the 13 officers that fired into the vehicle carrying two unarmed suspects were white (the other was Hispanic). Is more proof really needed?

A few decades ago Cleveland was under a federal consent decree to increase the number of minority officers until their numbers reflected the number of minority residents in the city. Another such decree is probably the only real answer … that’s why I say it will take a decade … probably even longer, and that’s even if we started immediately adding more minorities and women to the force. Which brings me back to Sgt. Johnny Hamm, who stopped by my vineyard the other day. You might wonder what’s so remarkable about that, so allow me to elucidate: Most people spend maybe a half hour outside their homes doing yard work. I, on the other hand, spend 15 to 20 hours across the street from my home working in my vineyard. When police drive past I wave; while the black officers routinely wave back, the white officers almost always turn their heads as if I’d just offended or spit at them — or simply glare. Members of the army of occupation.

The problem is, these outsiders (that’s what they really are) tend to judge all blacks by the sins and crimes of a few, not caring to realize that most of us are law-abiding citizens. The number of thugs in the black community is small, percentage-wise … somewhere around the same percentage of rogue officers on Cleveland’s police department.

We blacks need to quit defending and making excuses for wrongdoers in our community, just as police need to quit defending and making excuses for wrongdoers on the police force. That’s the only way the problem will be solved.

With that said, I sincerely appreciate having an officer like Sgt. Johnny Hamm patrolling my neighborhood, and wish there were more like him — be they black or white. He is the real solution.


From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier 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




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