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Monday, January 26, 2015

City Responds to PD/NEOMG Inquiries in Email to Press, Citing "Spirit of Transparency"

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 2:37 PM

Here's one important question the PD's Rachel Dissell and the NEOMG's Leila Atassi asked of the city as part of their ongoing series, "Forcing Change," about the Cleveland Division of Police and its use of excessive force: 
The mayor has said repeatedly that the findings of the U.S. Justice Department are allegations, and that the city will conduct its own investigation to determine what is factual. But these cases, on their face, suggest a pattern over the past decade of which the mayor should have been aware. Was he not? If the city has the capability to investigate the claims that the DOJ has made, why wasn’t that effort made years ago – before the federal government intervened?
That's a great question, diplomatically posed. We've been beating around that same particular bush for a few weeks, with limited clarification from city spokespeople.

When Dissell and Atassi — Cleveland's Woodward and Bernstein, for my money — asked, the city emailed its response to members of the press this morning.

Media Relations Director Dan Williams said he thought the answer might clarify issues related to the DOJ report's findings. It did not.  

In response to the question above — Two questions really: Was Jackson aware of the pattern of police force over the past decade? And if so, why wasn't an effort made to investigate a long time ago? — the city sidestepped. 

"The assumptions in your questions are false," the city's statement began, before explaining why, in various instances, lawsuits may be settled before trial. 

"Just as it does not mean that the Plain Dealer engages in a pattern or practice of libel because it may have settled several libel cases, the City’s settlement of excessive force cases does not mean that the City and its police officers engage in a pattern or practice of excessive force." 

Not a bad analogy, but neither the Plain Dealer nor the NEOMG have been meticulously investigated by the United States Department of Justice and been told that their actions are in violation of the Constitution.   

"The Mayor has not said that the DOJ findings are allegations," the city then clarified. "He has said that he does not agree with everything in the report... The City is reviewing the DOJ letter to determine the areas to be addressed in the settlement negotiation process." 

To be semantically fair, the Mayor has said that he hesitates to use the word "allegations" when he characterizes the issues identified in the report. (But hesitating to call a cat a "cat," and then calling it a popular domestic animal that's not a dog or a bird! doesn't mean you're talking about something else.) 

Williams' response goes on to reiterate how Jackson thinks the problem is much more complex than just police brutality — It's the whole criminal justice system! — and that "external arbitrators," who review the city's imposition of discipline, must be considered as well. 

Racial profiling wasn't addressed in the DOJ report either. A lot of residents have spoken up about that at the various listening tours and community meetings the city has limply offered to appease outraged constituents. But those residents at least acknowledge what Mayor Jackson can't or won't: The report's inability to capture every related issue does not invalidate the issues it does capture and condemn. 

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