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Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford says the officers who killed Tamir Rice must be charged for his death or new political leadership is needed in Cleveland if #BlackLivesMatter

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EDDIE CONWAY, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway in Baltimore. Thanks for joining us for this segment of Black Agenda Report, being hosted by my friend and comrade Glen Ford. Glen, are you there? GLEN FORD, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: I’m here. CONWAY: I understand there’s new developments on the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland. Can you give us an update on that? FORD: Well, I think these developments in the case of Tamir Rice–and the audience will remember he’s the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who was shot down by a cop while he was playing with a toy gun in a neighborhood park. And this case, if we follow it, really gives us lessons that relate to the broad Black Lives Matter movement and its ability to achieve the minimum goals of that movement by legal means. And by legal means I mean through the courts and through voting. If the bare minimum goal of the Black Lives Matter movement is to stop the cops from gunning black people down with impunity in their own neighborhoods, and by that I mean even and including little children, then Cleveland is showing us all that the law and the whole U.S. system of governance is not on our side. The law does not serve black people’s interests, and the process that creates and enforces those laws doesn’t serve black people’s interests, and we can look at the Tamir Rice case to show that. Remember that it took only two seconds for the cop to get out of his car and then shoot Tamir Rice down from a distance of only seven feet, and that there was a video of the whole grisly event. The county prosecutor, and this is typical behavior of county prosecutors, has been dragging his feet. So community leaders and Tamir Rice’s family availed themselves of a little-known law that they have in Ohio that allows citizens to bypass the prosecutor and go directly to a city judge and ask that the policeman be charged with some kind of crime. And it turned out that the city judge was a black man. And he agreed that there was, based on the video, based on what any reasonable person would conclude, there was reason to charge that cop with murder. But the judge then said, and this is only a few days ago, that he couldn’t bring the charge of murder himself. And he couldn’t force the county prosecutor to bring that murder charge either. And the prosecutor said that he’ll just go about his usual business, which is taking it before a grand jury, and we can expect the usual results from that usual prosecutorial business. So even the existence of this law in Cleveland, and remember the law was passed so that citizens would have an option to bypass the prosecutor in those cases where the system was trying to protect its own. So even when we have a law like that, it really has no legal effect in the case of Tamir Rice. That is a legal door that is closed to us. It effectively is not an option for us. Cleveland is now working on its second federal consent decree over the police department in just a little over a decade, but that has not brought justice or any semblance of it in the streets of Cleveland. It’s still a killing field, and the cops still have impunity. And we see, we see finally that the vote that black folks have had in Cleveland and used with the effect of electing black mayors since 1967 hasn’t changed that situation either. CONWAY: But Glen, let me back you up a minute, here. You say that door is closed. I mean, you say the judge said that it was probable cause for murder, and then he’s taken no action, and you kind of say that the door is closed. What other options do we have if you go through the whole criminal justice process and then still nothing is happening? I watched the video myself and it was no way that that young man could have been warned twice in the space of that car pulling up and that officer firing that shot. So what’s the recourse for us? FORD: Well, there is not legal recourse. And that in fact is the purpose of my little talk today, that the legal system is set up in such a way that we cannot achieve our minimal, minimal goals. If the Black Lives Matter is about anything, it’s stopping police from being able to kill us with impunity on the street, and to kill our children on the street. But even Ohio that has this law on the books that is designed to stop people in the system from protecting others in the system, to stop the prosecutor from protecting the police when they commit crimes against us, it really is a dead letter. It has no legal effect. And that points out the futility of it. And we keep on hearing about the vote. And we were told that we could fix the situation in Ferguson if black folks just voted more often and more effectively. But in Cleveland, we’ve had black mayors since Carl Stokes got elected in late 1967, and Cleveland is as bad as any other city in the country. And in fact, let me tell you just a very brief anecdote. The first thing that Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of Cleveland, did in terms of the criminal justice system is to appoint a black general, Ben Davis, as his police chief. And the first thing this black general did was to authorize the police to use dum-dum bullets against black citizens, and to side with the cops every time there was a question of using excessive force. So that is a dead end road, and we’ve had two decades to go down that road and see that it leads nowhere. This movement’s going to be like the movement of more than two generations ago, when segregation was the law and everything that we did to fight segregation was illegal. But it was the strength of our movement that created the political space that made them back up and change the law, to make that which was illegal legal. And that’s what we’re going to have to have if we’re going to get the minimal requirements of this Black Lives movement. And that minimum must be the creation of enough space on the streets of our cities that black folks will be able to at least begin to go through the process of creating institutions in which we police ourselves and we will not be policed by hostile, outside forces which act not just outside of the law, but with the backing of the law. CONWAY: Yeah. When you make that point I think about the recent history of Freddie Gray here in Baltimore. And there were numerous protests, and I think there wasn’t international and national attention on the case until you had that little incident in which the CVS was burned and so on. And it seems to me that that’s one of the things that we have to, in the community, and the government has to be more responsive to these protests, and look at what they’re doing instead of waiting until there’s an incident and then trying to address the problem. The problem exists and has been existing for a long time. FORD: And I’m convinced, I’m convinced that the Ferguson initiative, the Ferguson campaign, would have sputtered out if it had not been for the civil disturbances, if we can use that word, that began in earnest in November when the county prosecutor refused to indict the cop. And the disturbances in Baltimore, for those of us who are of a certain age, you and I, were not much in terms of the scope of something they call riots. But they had the effect of changing the conversation. And we need at least a change in the conversation, and ultimately a change in the political configuration in America. CONWAY: Okay. And that’s the last word, and please join us again for the Black Agenda Report, same time next week. Thanks for joining The Real News.


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Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.