UCC exec says Cleveland response to Tamir Rice lawsuit is ‘unfathomable’
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess plans to express the United Church of Christ’s “deep concern” to Cleveland city leaders this week for what he calls their seeming indifference in dealing forthrightly with needed changes within the Cleveland Police Department.
Guess, a national officer of the church, will speak out against the city’s actions in the death of 12-year-old African-American Tamir Rice, and the recent response to the Rice family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Cleveland in which the city claims Rice’s death at the hands of police in November was his own fault.
Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson will be delivering his annual State of the City Address on Wednesday, March 4, and Guess will attend on behalf of the Cleveland-based UCC to raise his concerns to the mayor or his staff.
“It is unfathomable that the City of Cleveland would so callously blame a 12-year-old child for his own death, a boy who was shot by police with no clear warning and left to die without first aid,” Guess said. “As a Clevelander, I am outraged and embarrassed that government leaders are clearly more interested in protecting the city’s financial liability over addressing the Cleveland Police Department’s repeated civil rights violations and excessive use of force, as cited by the U.S. Department of Justice.”
In its response to the lawsuit, the city argues that Rice failed to “exercise due care to avoid injury.” The city also argues that he died because of “the conduct of individuals or entities other than the Defendant.” The response includes 20 different defenses in response to the suit, which was filed in December and amended in January.
In November 2014, Rice was shot twice by a Cleveland police officer, who arrived at a recreation park and opened fire within two seconds after exiting his cruiser. According to surveillance video, it appears that no first aid was given to Rice for four minutes after he was shot. Officials later determined that Rice was playing with a pellet gun that shot non-lethal plastic BBs. Rice died a day after the shooting.
“We know there are many good, dedicated members of the Cleveland Police Department, who face great potential danger as they serve and protect the people of this city,” Guess said. “But, at the same time, it is obvious to too many that the City of Cleveland is not being as proactive as it should and must be in critiquing the current practices and patterns that keep our police and neighborhoods at odds with one another. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“I am proud of the dozens of Cleveland-area UCC pastors and congregations that have been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of insisting that Cleveland return to the tenets of constitutional community policing that understands the power of grassroots involvement and interaction with its citizens over the confrontational and adversarial models we see exhibited much too often,” Guess said.
Guess said he is speaking out because of his admiration for the city, which has been home to the UCC national setting, for 25 years, and because Cleveland citizens deserve fair treatment.
“I love Cleveland too much to stand by silent and allow our city government to avoid the important issues affecting our African-American neighbors and fellow citizens,” he said. “Until these concerns are aggressively owned and addressed by our mayor and city council, Cleveland will never be the great renaissance city it aspires to be.”
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