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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Clevelanders Call on City Council to Hold Hearings About Operation Legend

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2020 at 11:21 AM

click to enlarge SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
The day before Cleveland Police Det. James Skernivitz was shot and killed while working undercover on the city's west side, he was sworn in to the FBI's Violent Crimes Task Force in the Northern Ohio district. That task force will now be working with 25 reassigned Federal agents as part of the so-called Operation Legend, President Trump's plan to "fight violent crime" in certain urban areas by teaming up feds and local law enforcement.

More than 250 Clevelanders and a collection of political and social justice organizations are now calling on City Council to hold three full hearings on Operation Legend, and the legislation council is scheduled to vote on today authorizing an $8 million grant for the city's participation in it.

In a petition sent to Council President Kevin Kelley and all members of council Wednesday, signatories decried — not for the first time — the "emergency" designation which allowed the grant application bill to pass from the safety committee to the full council without an opportunity for public debate. (The idea of "public debate" is a farce anyway, as council doesn't allow public comment at its meetings, but comments are technically permitted at committee hearings. The Zoom format has precluded public participation.) Council's Safety Committee approved the grant application, which would reimburse the city for the salaries of 30 new local police officers, last week. 

Though Council's vote later today appears to be only a formality — U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman told ideastream last week that new local officers had already been selected and that Operation Legend was a "long-term commitment that's going to last several years at least" — the petition nevertheless asks council to seriously discuss public safety, given the national "tidal wave" of  recognition around racism and policing.

"Of all our national institutions," the petition reads, "the most violent and disproportionate impact on Black and brown people comes from policing. We reject the mindset that we will be safer if we expand and empower the very institution that is responsible for so much violence and anguish in our neighborhoods."

That rejection accords with the anguished chants at dozens of protests that erupted in Cleveland all summer. The protests were organized in response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and cases of police violence in Cleveland.

In other cities, these cries from the citizenry have precipitated or accelerated changes in city funding that redirect dollars from police departments to mental health experts and other critical needs. The early results from such shifts are encouraging, if you're the sort of person who thinks fewer innocent people dying is a public good. In Denver, for example, a recently launched program sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls. Over 350 calls this summer, the "Support Team Assistance Response" (STAR) Van has never once called for police backup. The program was in the works before George Floyd demonstrations in Denver, but its implementation is the sort of thing that communities are calling for.

Without these changes, police will continue to kill innocent people, especially people of color. This past weekend, police in Salt Lake City repeatedly shot an unarmed 13-year-old boy with autism who was having an episode in his home. (Tanisha Anderson would still be alive today if a mental health professional and a paramedic responded to her family's call for help in 2014.) 

In Cleveland, the recent response from local leadership has been to increase police resources: more officers, more money for weapons and ammunition, more Federal agents. In a national interview in June, Mayor Frank Jackson flatly refused to reduce the police budget and redirect funds to public health expenses. And that's consistent with local elected leaders' M.O. in recent years: to listen intently to what the public demands, and then do the opposite.

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