Written by Anthony Moujaes
National officers of the United Church of Christ delivered on their promise to continue raising concerns with Cleveland city officials following the deadly police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. In fact, the officers delivered a letter to the mayor of the city—at his annual address—calling on him to restore justice to the people and confidence to the police department, so that "right relationships may be established between Cleveland’s citizens and those whose job it is to protect and serve them."
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of UCC Local Church Ministries, handed the letter to Mayor Frank G. Jackson on Wednesday, March 4, at the conclusion of Jackson’s annual State of the City Address. Guess attended on behalf of the Cleveland-based UCC to bring concerns to the mayor.
"I was able to personally present our letter to Mayor Jackson and have a one-on-one conversation with him at the conclusion of his address, where he graciously engaged me in a thoughtful exchange about police reform in Cleveland," Guess said. "I shared with him the concern of many in the United Church of Christ, both locally and nationally, that Cleveland must take a national leadership role in modeling what excellent constitutional community policing can look like. I told him this nation is in desperate need of a city government that will provide that kind of inclusive and responsive leadership."
Guess also thanked Jackson for saying in his address that police reform should be "substantive and not just window dressing," but Guess also pushed the need for urgency and a public timeline, "because the eyes of the world are on Cleveland and a thoughtful and aggressive approach to implementing change is needed now, before other senseless tragedies occur," he said.
The four officers of the church issued the letter in reaction to the death of Rice, the 12-year-old African American fatally shot by police in November, and Cleveland's recent response this week to the Rice family's wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The city claimed Rice's death was his own fault.
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the UCC; the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive of Justice and Witness Ministries; the Rev. James Moos, executive of Wider Church Ministries; and Guess encouraged Jackson, who is in his third term, to make police reform one of his greatest legacies.
"In the midst of so much tension and mistrust brewing across this land, this nation desperately needs a light-bearing city that can model and live out a new approach to community policing, one that can be held up nationally and replicated by others," the officers wrote. "We believe Cleveland can be that great city, a people and a police department who, together, insist on a better way."
They also called on Jackson to address prior incidents outlined in a U.S. Department of Justice report. The report, concluded in December 2014 after a two-year investigation, detailed civil rights violations and excessive use of force by the Cleveland Police Department.
Cleveland has been home to the UCC national offices for 25 years, and the officers of the church pledged to Jackson to help in any way they can.
"As leaders of the United Church of Christ and as leaders for change in this city, we stand ready and willing to partner with and encourage you, as you and all of us bring about the adaptive changes necessary to usher in a new day for Cleveland," the letter concludes. "Along the way, be assured of our constant prayers and relentless advocacy until fuller and fairer justice comes to the Cleveland we love."