It has been over six months since 12-year-old African-American Tamir Rice was murdered by a white Cleveland police officer outside a popular neighborhood recreation center. Despite ongoing demonstrations and numerous other actions, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has continued to drag his feet on even sending the case to a grand jury.
In a brilliant tactical move on June 9, a group of Cleveland activists invoked a rarely used Ohio law to file affidavits asking Judge Ronald Adrine of the Cleveland Municipal Court to find probable cause to arrest Rice’s killers.
The law, Ohio Revised Code 2935.09, allows anyone with information about illegal activity to file an affidavit for an official to review. It was established in 1960 to give private citizens a way to hold law enforcement accountable when they feel police are not doing anything about a crime
The list of charges against officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback includes aggravated murder, murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and a number of dereliction of duty charges.
Referred to as the Cleveland 8, the signers of the affidavit are the Rev. Jawanza Colvin, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church; the Rev. R.A. Vernon, pastor at The Word Church; Edward Little Jr., a criminal justice consultant; Rhonda Williams, director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University; Bakari Kitwana, author; Joseph Worthy Jr., executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund; Julia Shearson, executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; and Rachelle Smith, a community activist.
It took Judge Adrine, who is African-American, only two days to find probable cause for all the charges, except aggravated murder.
“The video in question in this case is notorious and hard to watch,” Judge Adrine wrote in his order. “After viewing it several times, this court is still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly,” he said, adding that Officer Loehmann fired his gun before the car he was riding in had even come to a stop.
However, Judge Adrine lacks the authority to arrest or officially indict the cops. Only the county can do that. And Prosecutor McGinty restated on June 11 that the case will go to a Cuyahoga County grand jury. It’s important to remember that in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, grand juries failed to indict police accused of murder.
Black political clout in Cleveland
Cleveland is the largest city in Cuyahoga County. County politicians have continually worked to weaken the political clout of Cleveland, which has been a source of Black political strength since the 1960s.
According to U.S. Census data estimates for 2013, Cleveland is 53.3 percent Black, 37.3 percent white and 10.0 percent Latino/a, with the rest Asian or Native American. Cuyahoga County is the direct opposite, with 64.6 percent white, 32.2 percent Black, 5.2 percent Latino/a, and the rest a mixture of Asian and Native American.
There is a striking division of duties between Cleveland’s Municipal Court and Cuyahoga County’s Court of Pleas. Cleveland Municipal Court can handle only misdemeanors, while Cuyahoga County Court handles all the felonies.
Out of the 34 Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judges, 31 are white.
It was Cuyahoga County Judge John O’ Donnell who acquitted Officer Michael Brelo after he fired most of the 137 bullets that killed, execution-style, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell in 2012. Some 77 demonstrators were arrested protesting the verdict.
The ruling by Judge Adrine that there is probable cause to indict Loehmann and Garmback represents a reaction by Black officials to the racism and lack of respect shown to Cleveland and its residents. Gains have been made by cities like Cleveland and Detroit as a result of the mighty Civil Rights and Black Power movements. All the victories wrenched from the capitalist ruling class have been steadily eroded and are now under complete attack.
It is the duty of all anti-racist fighters to support all methods of fightback chosen by the African-American community.