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Cleveland activist David Patterson says communities can’t hold police accountable without a civilian review board

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JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER,TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has reached an historic agreement with the city of Cleveland to address what the DOJ calls widespread and systemic use of excessive force by their police department. The agreement is intended to spur sweeping reform, including the use of deescalation techniques, banning physical retaliation against suspects, and mandatory reporting after the use of force by officers. This is Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. MAYOR FRANK JACKSON, CLEVELAND: I think that we need substantive change. And we need to get it done rapidly. NOOR: All this comes at a time of rising tensions between the city, which is majority African-American, and the police force, which is majority white. In fact, dozens were arrested Saturday protesting a not guilty verdict for Officer Michael Brelo for the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two unarmed African-American people who were killed in a hail of over 100 bullets. And although this agreement emphasizes restoring the community’s trust and creates a community police commission, it does not create a review board which gives civilians oversight over law enforcement. Now joining us to discuss all this is David Patterson. He’s a longtime community activist. Thank you so much for joining us, David. DAVID PATTERSON, PRESIDENT, THE CARL STOKES BRIGADE: Glad to be here, thanks for having me. NOOR: David, the DOJ says the agreement reflects the communities that make up the city of Cleveland and their demands. And now a civilian will also lead the Internal Affairs division in the Cleveland Police Department. You say this is not enough. Can you explain? PATTERSON: Well, it’s not enough on many levels. Number one, who’s to appoint or put in place this civilian? Who’s making that choice? I’m sure it’s not going to be civic activists and residents of the city of Cleveland. There are just so many things that aren’t right about this decision. And as I have stated on many occasions, where there is no consequence there is no concrete change. As I look through the synopsis of this report I see a lot of hyperbole. I see a lot of statements with respect to these are the things that will change. We’re going to have more accountability. We’re going to have more transparency. But as you read between the lines you see that there are no real measures put in place for those systems and those accountability measures to be done by anybody other than the Cleveland Police. The police have never been able to police the police. That’s not going to change. And as far as I’m concerned, this report is just mere rhetoric. NOOR: You mentioned, you mentioned how police can’t police themselves. That’s a theme we have kind of touched upon in a lot of our reporting right here in Baltimore and across the country. And one of the demands here in Baltimore and many places around the country is having a civilian review board that can hold police officers accountable. Talk about why you feel that’s needed in Cleveland. PATTERSON: Well, it’s not only needed in Cleveland. It’s needed nationwide. Because the problems that we face here in Cleveland, the systemic issues, are basically systemic everywhere in the United States. We have police forces running rampant. We have police forces attacking, beating, and killing African-Americans mostly. I mean, because when you look at the statistics most of the people being assaulted and killed are African-Americans. And so when you look at these things that are going on across the country, you realize that without the power of a civilian review board, and I don’t mean a civilian review board in name only just to placate the public, we need a civilian review board with real powers of investigation, and with real powers to enact change and to levy consequence. Other than that this isn’t going to change anytime soon. NOOR: Now, was this DOJ investigation, was this called for by community activists? Because some have argued the DOJ only steps in once the anger in the community is so great–that they step in to kind of blunt organizing and the momentum that’s gained over the years, and over the course of all these unchecked abuses. PATTERSON: Well, in Cleveland as it relates to the things that were going on here I would have to say that they did come in based on the outrage of civic activists and other community members. But the thing that people really need to know as well is that the DOJ was here in 2002, 2003. And they did a similar assessment with the Cleveland police force and found similar abuses. And the recommendations that were made then were not adhered to, and with what’s going on now and the watered-down version of change that they seem to want to give to the public now with this report, it looks like it’s just more of the same. NOOR: Here at The Real News in our reporting on the issue of civilian oversight of law enforcement, we found that maybe the most powerful example of that actually exists in Canada. For example, in Toronto they have–not only is it a review board, but it’s actually a governing board. The oversight mechanism actually gets to set police policy if they find widespread systemic abuse. For example,they recently tried to ban racial profiling. Is that something that’s being discussed in Cleveland? Or do you think people would, they would want to adopt such a measure? PATTERSON: We would absolutely want to adopt it here. I think the biggest problem that separates us from being able to do what they do in Canada is the status quo. They’re the ones that don’t want these things implemented. They are the ones that don’t want these changes to take place. Because it’s obvious that a civilian review board with all the power that should be given to it to enact change and to force these police officers to do what they should do on a daily basis, it would change dramatically how law enforcement functions in the United States. Unfortunately we’ve got a lot of people that don’t want to see that happen, and that is clearly to the detriment of the public. NOOR: David Patterson, thank you so much for joining us. Community activist and president of the Carl Stokes Brigade. PATTERSON: Thank you so much for having me. You guys take care. NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


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David Patterson is currently the President of the Carl Stokes Brigade, a civic activism organization which incorporates both the legacy and the spirit of Carl Burton Stokes. Stokes was the first African American mayor of a major U.S metropolitan city (Cleveland) who went on to become a judge, newscaster, and U.S. Ambassador. Patterson was formally President of AFSCME Local 1355 representing CMHA maintenance and clerical workers here in Cleveland and spearheaded the acquisition of significant raises for the workers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in retroactive pay.