Police brutality: Two words that represent what continues to plague this nation with accusations, videos and stories of senseless violence and racism. At the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Police Force and the Media” program held Wednesday, April 22 at John Carroll University, these two words supplied the topic of the evening.
The panel included City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Northeast Ohio Media Group reporter Ryllie Danylko, law student Chris Esparza-Rivero, and columnist and radio show host Mansfield Frazier. Carrie Buchanan, a JCU communications professor, moderated the event. The only person missing was former police chief and current Public Safety Director Mike McGrath. His perspective would have provided more to the other side of the story if he had legally been allowed to speak.
“It is important for us to remember, when we are thinking about media coverage of police issues, that there are many occasions on which the police cannot speak for themselves,” Buchanan said in introducing the panel.
The panelists took turns speaking on the controversial topic as the audience listened intently. Everyone agreed that there are some police officers who use excessive force and abuse power upon people of a different race.
Chris Rivero, a law student and JCU alum, spoke about his own traumatic experience with the police on New Years Eve five years ago. He clearly struggled with what had happened that night, when several police officers had ganged up on him and his friend with his girlfriend as a witness. He “pulled the card” that he went to school with the police chief Mike McGrath’s son to save both his and his friend’s life.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Rivero of his ordeal. “I thought my friend was going to get shot and my girlfriend was going to witness it all.”
Rivero’s story is only one of many that deserve to be heard. Danylko, a reporter whose crime stories can be read on www.cleveland.com, seeks out such stories and communicates them to the public. During her senior year at JCU, Danylko was managing editor of The Carroll News.
“Doing that coverage was mind-blowing,” said Danylko about speaking to victims.
She described several examples racism in police aggressiveness including a couple that had been pulled over that ended with the man getting out of his car and then severely beaten and then another boy, sixteen-years-old, shot in the back as he had run from the police.
It also is important, however, to remember these policemen who had treated Rivero in this way or the “cowboys” trying to catch bad guys, as Frazier called them, only represent a minority of the police force, he stressed. But they are destroying the reputations of all police officers. Frazier stressed that because the better officers do not speak up, the entire field of individuals is blamed for the actions of a few.
“Let me be clear. Probably 95 percent of the police in America are good, decent and hardworking individuals that go out and do a tough job and do it very well. The mistake they make is that they protect the five percent that make them look bad,” added Frazier.
Councilman Cimperman offered his own example of City Council’s Public Security Committee’s listening tour around the city, a series of meetings where officers and citizens were coming together and communicating with one another, even after the meetings ended. He said this was evidence that reconciliation is possible if everyone listens to each other’s part in the story.
“As the community was venting and, rightfully, talking about the issues causing a lot of pain, every one of the meetings we had, had police officers there. I kept watching the young police officers watching people speaking, and they were all nodding their heads. You get it. You are here, listening,” Cimperman said, addressing the police who did this.
Several JCU students had their own reactions to the subject matter during a question and answer period.
Junior Ally Vonderau asked, “Are body cameras on policemen effective?”
Frazier responded with an answer that emphasized police secrecy: “No, because they will not release the footage anyway.”
Another student, sophomore Bill Sowers, asked, “Should the police be engaging the youth?”
The panelists agreed that the police should be interacting more with youth and creating a sense of community to improve relations between officers and citizens.
Finally, senior Ashley Bastock asked, “What are your thoughts on having a conversation [with minority children] about interacting with a police officer?”
Frazier described the talk African-American parents say they must have with their children about how to behave when stopped by police, even if the police officer is rude or provocative.
In light of recent events involving Freddie Gray and the riots occurring in Baltimore, this conversation is more important than ever and it is more crucial than ever for Americans to discuss the topic of police brutality with each other and the communities that they live in.
Editor’s Note: Visit jcunews.com to view complete video of the panel discussion.