CLEVELAND — It's been five years since 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer while holding a toy gun outside of the Cudell Recreation Center, but Cleveland urban affairs and community activists believe the impact of his death on police/teen relations has not diminished.
Cleveland State Urban Affairs Professor Ronnie Dunn said the Tamir Rice tragedy continues to play a role in the general mistrust Cleveland teens have in local law enforcement.
“The impact that the shooting, Tamir’s death, had on them, they articulated a fear of the police that is beyond some of the other dangers in the community,” Dunn said. “That sense of security that we’re taught that you should get for the police, those that are sworn and directed to protect you, that’s lost. That’s lost for a whole generation of youth. It is of that magnitude. Tamir is the Emmett Till of this generation.”
Al Porter, President of Black on Black Inc., runs a hip hop workshop on the Cleveland State University campus.
Porter said his contact with Cleveland teens indicates current community policing efforts aren't enough and that additional programs are needed to promote police/teen interaction and engagement.
“We have ice cream socials, chess matches, a lot of other engagement from the police department in the community. That’s the only thing I see that’s really changed," Porter said. "They’re out there for those, but those only happen 10 percent of the time. A majority of the time they feel that law enforcement are not friends and that law enforcement is judging them right off the bat, rather than treating them like regular citizens.”
Both Porter and Dunn acknowledged the effort of Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams and consent decree progress in producing fewer police shootings and fewer use of force cases.
But Dunn said more training is needed for new, younger officers in helping them understand the backdrop the Tamir Rice tragedy has set-up concerning police/teen relations.
“The police are going to have to lead the way in engaging in the community and particularly with our youth, because there is such a long troubled history there," Dunn said. “That needs to become part of their training, that they need to be made aware of in the academy and then it should be continued in-service training.”