Nina Turner on Firing of Cleveland Cop Who Killed Tamir Rice
The police officer was fired for lying on an employment application, not for shooting a 12 year old boy; Senator Nina Turner says nothing Tamir did was illegal but cops are shooting first and asking questions later – what’s needed is weeding out a culture of racism and impunity in police departments and it must start at the top
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was killed by a Cleveland police officer. Police dispatch had reported a man with a gun, failing to inform it was a juvenile and the gun might be a fake. Almost everyday a black American is killed in a police shooting. On Tuesday, Cleveland Police Chief announced that the officer that shot Tamir was being fired but not for the killing, but for not disclosing he had had to resign a prior police job before being fired for insubordination, emotional immaturity, dishonesty and mishandling his gun.
Now joining us from Cleveland is Senator Nina Turner. She’s married to a retired police officer and her son is active duty law enforcement. Nina is a former Ohio state senator. She was a prominent surrogate for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary, and she’s the host of an upcoming, new show on The Real News Network, the Nina Turner Show. Thank very much for joining us, Senator.
NINA TURNER: Glad to be here.
PAUL JAY: You’re kind of, what should I say, on both sides of this question or divide. You understand the trials and tribulations of being a police officer in a big American city where so many people are poor and suffer the consequences of that kind of poverty, as well as you’re an advocate for all kinds of progressive legislation, of progressive reforming including police reform. Tell us a bit about how this case has played out in Cleveland and what your views are about it.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, Paul Jay. It’s really heavy, and I’m sure it’s heavy for most people in this country when you have to really think very deeply about the troubling trend in this country that whether or not African American men or other men, and women should I say, of color are paying it or pictured in this country even beyond police officers as being more criminal or not worthy as white Americans or other minority groups. In terms of what police officers, being on the front line, you’re absolutely right. I do understand both sides of this. I understand the families of those law enforcement officers want to make sure that their loved one comes home safe, and it is a very dangerous job as my son often reminds me all the time. He lets me know that he doesn’t wear his bulletproof vest to make a fashion statement. That is is dangerous, and that law enforcement officers can make just even a routine traffic stop can turn dangerous.
What happened here in Cleveland and what is happening all across this country mainly at the hands of white male police officers is this notion to shoot first and ask questions later. In the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was a boy, even though Officer Loehmann described him as a 20-year-old male, which really feeds into the psyche in this country where whites in particular see black males as older than what they really are. He described Tamir Rice as a 20-year-old male when in fact he was a 12-year-old boy.
The point in your opening that you made that the caller … If any of our viewers had listened to the tape, the caller did say that there was someone waving a gun and that the gun may be fake, and that he thought it was a juvenile.
911 CALLER: There is a guy out here with a pistol. It’s probably fake but he’s like pointing it at everybody. He’s sitting on the swing right now, but he keeps pulling it in and out of his pants. And pointing it at people. He’s probably a juvenile, you know?
NINA TURNER: But the dispatcher, there were two. There’s a call taker, because I want the viewers to understand. There’s a call taker and then there’s a dispatcher, and it has become clear through the investigative process that the dispatcher did not tell the law enforcement officers those particular facts, that this might be a juvenile and it might be a fake gun.
PAUL JAY: Well, there’s two questions here. There’s the broad systemic question. Why so many young black males are being killed by police, but before that, let’s talk about some of the specifics of the Tamir Rice case, because that’s sort of emblematic of a systemic problem as well. Which is the dispatcher I think was only suspended for eight days or something like that for failing to give information that might have prevented the killing of Tamir. The police officer in the end is fired for a technical issue to do with his job application form, not because he killed the kid. Three, the grand jury apparently was completely exceptional in the sense they allowed the police to make statements to the grand jury but not be questioned, which apparently is quite abnormal. You get an exceptional process, which I would guess gives police a feeling of impunity.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, you really do. The Supreme Court has really ruled in favor and understandably so under certain circumstances. I mean, you can understand that. The Supreme Court gives law enforcement officers a lot of leeway in terms of being in a very volatile situation at the time, but in Cuyahoga County you’re absolutely right. Actually, the prosecutor lost his re-election bit because of this, because the citizens of Cuyahoga County decided that the way that Supreme Court … Excuse me. Not Supreme Court, but the way the grand jury process was run was not proper. When he came up for re-election, he actually did not win. He has been replaced, so that is some justice in this particular case.
Also, we have to do a better job in dealing with the grand jury process. The grand jury process, lots of people serve on grand juries. It’s not a very diverse cross-section of people, but we really need to fix that. Our Supreme Court in the state of Ohio is looking at the grand jury process, but it is systemic as you pointed out. This is bigger than the police officers, so I’m glad that you brought that up, Paul Jay, because they are just one part, one piece of the puzzle when it comes to criminal justice or justice reform in this country. They have to navigate the same socialization process that we all have to navigate no matter what our ethnicity is. In a country that predisposes African American people and other people of color, particularly Hispanic folks, as more criminal than anybody else, that is something that we have to deal with as a country. It’s not just the police offices. It’s probation officers, it’s judges, it’s prosecutors. It is the entire universe that is the criminal justice system that we have to deal with.
Your point about Officer Loehmann. There was a letter in his file in Independence, Ohio, which is a suburban police department in greater Cleveland. They put a letter in his file that said that he was unfit to be a police officer, and it just boggles the mind why the Cleveland Police Department did not do its due diligence to do a thorough background check on Loehmann. If they had done that, Tamir Rice may very well still be alive today.
PAUL JAY: Part of the problem it seems to me is that if the fundamental role of police is to enforce laws, and law enforcement is the other name for them, and if the laws themselves are fundamentally unjust, and what I mean by that; the laws re-enforce a whole socioeconomic system that allows chronic poverty, and it’s no big … You don’t have to be a genius to know chronic poverty and high crime rates go together, and it doesn’t matter what race of ethnicity people are. If you’re living in chronic poverty, there’s likely to be more crime there. We used to have somebody working at The Real News whose father is a cop. He once said to me, “You, meaning society, you guys make a choice. Do you want us to hand out flowers, or do you want us to be the hammer, because if you’re not dealing with the underlying social conditions, you’re really asking us to be a hammer.” It also means when they hire people, they want to hire people that are willing to use a hammer.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, it is a mentality among police offices. That law enforcement officer or that police officer is absolutely right in that we do have to deal with the underlying conditions that create these negatives synergies all across this country but particularly in urban areas. I will tell you, my husband tells me all the time that he received the same training as his white brethren and it’s particularly white males. It’s very rare that you will see women of any ethnicity engaged in situations like that. There are many studies that show that women in particular are better at de-escalating a situation as compared to their male counterparts. Not only do we need a more diverse, ethnically diverse police departments and other law enforcement sheriffs and all the others in these departments across this country, but we also need to invite and encourage more women to come into that field as well because they bring a certain type of presence.
That police officer is absolutely right. We are asking law enforcement to be a hammer, and it is vitally important that we [inaudible 00:09:17] this equation. Not necessarily in the Tamir Rice case in particular, but across the board in terms of what is our collective responsibility. I can tell you, Paul Jay, when I was a Cleveland city councilwomen in the very community that I still live in. A lot of elders in the community, baby boomers. I mean, they wanted law enforcements. There’s a misnomer that there is some battle between the black community in particular and law enforcement. Most black folks welcome the police, but they want accountability, and they want transparency, and they want fairness. I believe that we can have all of that, because in order for communities to be safe, police officers and other law enforcement personnel need to have a strong relationship. That not only keeps the community safe, but it keeps our law enforcement safe as well. To have that, you have to have trust, you have to have transparency, and you have to have accountability.
PAUL JAY: To get that, many people say there needs to be legitimate real community control of the police, with the power to hire and fire the police chief, to set real guidelines and protocols on how policing is done. Without some form of real civilian control of the police, you really can’t get those objectives of transparency and accountability.
NINA TURNER: We do need more civilian review boards and also to really get back to community based policing and not just say that as a buzz word and to really fund … In Cleveland about 10 years ago, we did have community based policing. We had many stations where police officers were assigned to a certain community over and over and over again. What that does is it builds relationship. Have those law enforcement officers … First of all, the senior law enforcement officer pulled up, the driver pulled up on the scene tactically wrong. Putting Loehmann in danger if that gun had been real, but it wasn’t. They never really gave Tamir Rice the opportunity to give up if you will.
In another point I want our viewers to know is that Ohio is an open carry state. Even if Officer Loehmann thought that Tamir Rice was 20 years old, in Ohio it is legal to openly carry a weapon. There’s so many dynamics within the Tamir Rice case where things went wrong that need to be fixed so that nothing like this ever happens again both for the safety of law enforcement but in particular for the safety of our children. What really gets to me, Paul Jay, is that we live in a society where black children are not allowed to be children. That is something that is better than law enforcement. It is about racism that is in the DNA of this country, that somehow sees black children, black males in particular, black men in particular, as more criminal than anybody else. I think the rapper Ice Cube put it this way, “My skin is my sin.” That is something that we really have to deal with not only with law enforcement officers but with all of us as individuals living in the United States of America.
PAUL JAY: We’re in Baltimore. We’re probably going to hit something like 350 murders again. That’s about the same number of murders as New York City with 13 times the population. It’s so obvious in Baltimore that more policing and bigger police budgets does not make for a safer city as long as the conditions, number one, treat people, especially young people. We had a town hall at Gilmor Homes where Freddie Gray grew up. A man spoke there. He said, “You treat our kids like animals. What do you expect of them when they grow up? They have nothing.”
GILMOR HOMES RESIDENT: They’re children. They deserve the same respect the little European children get. They don’t tear their neighborhoods down.
PAUL JAY: Second of all, it’s also combined with what you said. The community does need safety. People do want to walk to the store and not get mugged or worry about their kids getting attacked or beat up at school.
NINA TURNER: That’s right.
PAUL JAY: People do want “law and order,” but not a law and order that re-enforces such horrible conditions.
NINA TURNER: No. Law and order with justice. We can have it. It is a mentality, and we really have to look at policing in a different way and also give law enforcement officers the tools that they need. Now, again my husband will say it’s not the training. It is the mentality of the law enforcement officers. Maybe on some respects, I absolutely agree with him. On the other hand, it is vitally important that we have cultural sensitivity training. The type of diversity training that really goes deep, that really goes into the psyche. To your point, we need more investment into job programs and educational programs that will try to catch people on the front end so that there’s not so much despair in urban centers that then police officers have to come in and try to deal with it. I think Einstein said it best when he said, “Poisonous weeds and corn can grow in the same soil if the conditions are right.” He said, “I believe that the conditions matter more than the soil.” That is the point that we both are making in that, that we have to think about this differently.
Also, understand that it is a relationship that has to be cultivated, and trust, accountability and transparency is so important. You know, Paul Jay, after Tamir Rice … Tamir Rice was shot on November 22 in 2014. I remember feeling so helpless, and the mother side of me came out. Not the senator side, but the mother side. Governor John Kasich had called me that day to find out what the spirit and tone was of the citizens in the city of Cleveland. It was a very heavy time. I asked the governor could I come talk to him along with two of my other colleagues. We asked the governor to create a task force, and he did just that. I got to give it to him.
He created a task force, and our job was to travel all over the state of Ohio, which we did in four months, and collect the thoughts of everyday citizens, and to create a report that we would give to him in terms of recommending action. With that report, 600 pages, the voices of the people were prominent, not just those of us who sat on that task force, from all backgrounds. Political, spiritual, civic, business, Republican, Democrat, young and seasoned to hear the cries of the people. Right after that, we had to give our report to the governor. In April, he signed another executive order that created the Ohio Collaboration for Community and Police Relations.
We for the first time in our state’s history have standards by which law enforcement agencies in the state of Ohio have to comply with. If they don’t, their various communities will know that. Our first two standards were the use of force and deadly force, and also the hiring. We just passed a standard a couple of months ago to deal with data collection, so that we can have the … We have the appearance. We need the empirical data to go along with the anecdotal data so that we can help police departments become better at what they do. All of those things are important.
I share that story because I do see a ray of hope. It is not the only thing we need to do in Ohio. It won’t solve all of the problems, but I am proud of our state, that we came together. No incidents of violence broke out as you know over the Tamir Rice situation, which is very heavy. I’m proud of my city. I’m also proud of my state, that we took action before people got so frustrated that they wanted to turn to violence. This is heavy, and it is all of our responsibility.
PAUL JAY: In order to actually implement some of the recommendations and the guidelines, I know even on the grand jury process, after this Tamir Rice grand jury, there were recommendations which included don’t let police testify without being questioned. Almost none of it was followed up on. Don’t you need real civilian control, an elected civilian body that actually has control of the police to make sure that guidelines as you’re suggesting are actually followed? I know in Baltimore, you have study after study and recommendations after recommendations, and hardly anything changes because there’s still a culture of impunity.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, it’s the culture part. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Civilian review board would be part of the solution, but it is not the only solution. I will say here in Ohio that the overwhelming majority of our law enforcement agencies either meet or exceed those two standards that are just really getting started. It has to be a commitment, but that culture part that you’re pointing out, Paul Jay, that is important, and that starts at the top. We need police chiefs and the mayors that control these police departments to have a no tolerance for these types of behaviors, and to let the law enforcement officers know that if you’re doing the right thing we’re going to back you up, but if you’re not doing the right thing, there will be swift judgment.
PAUL JAY: Let me say the flip side of that based on the Baltimore experience and the Department of Justice report on the Baltimore Police Department, that it’s not just a problem of officers in command tolerating this behavior. They’re ordering this behavior to take place. In fact, in the DOJ report on the Baltimore Police Department there’s an example of a female cop who’s ordered to go “clear the corner,” which means violates people’s constitutional rights, arrest people on a corner who are hanging out, and she refuses to do it saying, “I will not violate their constitutional rights.” She’s disciplined for it. She gets no overtime for 30 days, and then she appeals that and commander who hears the appeal says, “No, you deserved it because you didn’t make your numbers for the month.” Meaning she didn’t arrest enough people for the month. It’s so much just commanders tolerating, commanders are actually initiating this unconstitutional behavior.
NINA TURNER: That is totally unacceptable. Similarly, as you know, the city of Cleveland’s police department is under a consent decree. The DOJ found similar behavior within the city of Cleveland’s police department. One rotten apple or many rotten apples will spoil the entire bunch. This starts with the top, and it also starts with weeding out the entire culture. I mean, even in 2012, you may remember, Paul Jay, that two civilians were shot. Their car were shot at 137 times. 137 times. No other couple, no other two people have been shot at like that since Bonnie and Clyde, and nothing happened. A lot of that rests at the feet of the command staff within the Cleveland Police Department to have two folks who were unarmed, who had done nothing wrong.
It was suspected that they were shooting at police officers because an officer heard the car backfire. It was an older car. They chased this couple, and when I say couple, they’re together. I don’t know if they were romantically linked. They chase them out of the city of Cleveland, into East Cleveland, and shoot at them 137 times. It’s no wonder that none of the police officers got shot. One officers in particular jumps on top of the car, his name is Brelo. Jumps on top of the car and shoots into that car 40 times. Again, nothing happened to him. It is the entire system that needs fix.
PAUL JAY: Okay. As I said before, Senator Turner has a new show on The Real News Network called the Nina Turner Show. This issue of policing and law and justice is certainly going to be one of the important themes of that show. Thanks for much for joining us again, Senator.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network, and look forward soon to the Nina Turner Show on The Real News.