Tamia Chappman should be here with us today. She should be in the library, safe, laughing with her friends and dreaming about her future. She is not. She is not with us because we continue to allow lives like hers to be devalued. She is not with us because police, filled with adrenaline, are still allowed to behave like it’s the wild west. Police, who are more concerned with recovering stolen property than the safety of the citizens they are sworn to protect, are still pursuing vehicles at nearly 100 miles an hour through the streets where our young children play. Tamias death was avoidable, yet the system calls it reasonable. It was reckless, yet deemed by the Jackson administration to be within policy. They can stand in front of microphones and call their Consent Decree a success. You only have to stand in front of Tamia’s grave to understand it is not.
Cleveland police officers continue to escape accountability. In this incident we witnessed repeat offenders like Brian Sabolik who not only self dispatched in the 137 Shots incident that led to the murders of Timmothy Russell and Malissa Williams but again self dispatched in this case and which resulted in Tamia Chapman’s death but also the suicide of his partner who could not handle the tragic outcome.
Accountability has become a political word with little real meaning when you look at the actions of Safety Director Karrie Howard who is the executive head of the Cleveland Division of Police. Two years have passed and he has not revised the vehicle pursuit policy for Cleveland, letting stand the same rules that lead to Tamia’s death despite calls from both the Inspector General and the CPC. There has never even been any pursuit training since the beginning of the Consent Decree. Karrie is also overriding ccrb recommendations on discipline and eliminating oversight by minority organizations who represent officers of color to ensure they receive the same treatment as white officers.
The Safety Director’s failure to act means that our children remain unsafe from the reckless disregard of adrenaline junkie Cleveland officers. Inaction or action to conceal and protect officers means that a tragedy like Tamia’s death can happen again. This is why Cleveland voted in necessary charter changes mandating community oversight of law enforcement, because police left to police themselves doesn’t work and results in more tragedy in our communities. We did it for Tamia, we did it for Tim and Mallissa, we did it for Tamir, we did it for Desmond Franklin, we did it for all those who have been harmed by the Cleveland Division of Police and have not seen justice or accountability.
And lastly we must speak to the systemic failures that occurred when on paper policy and its mandates exist that could have stopped the human error and reckless disregard. CDP is supposed to equip their vehicles with vehicle tracking systems which determine location and rate of speed. During the ordeal administrators monitoring the chase asked officers to self report their rate of speed allowing them to lie and the officers were giving wrong information about their location and direction. These series of events made worse by the lack of a working vehicle location device made it impossible to have accurate information by those monitoring the chase by which they could have gave life saving instructions.
The lack of following the mandates resulted in a continuous high speed pursuit and a missed opportunity to allow patrol cars to box in the fleeing suspects. The disregard for ensuring training already in place is taken and understood by patrol officers and command staff is the single biggest failure that could have contained reckless officers and saved lives. And of these failures no one is found to be culpable in wrongdoings except for an officer in training who was not driving, was following instructions and by the way was Black. LT. Farmer, who oversaw the chase and is culpable, failed to control the situation and then was allowed to investigate his own disaster finding himself guilty of no wrongdoing.
How can you fix what does not want to be fixed?
We are hopeful that the new police commission combined with new leadership and renewed pressure will bring about new investigations into these deaths. This is our only path to receive justice for the families of the fallen and safety in our community.