When the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association voted not only to endorse a presidential candidate for the first time in the union's history but also to endorse Donald Trump, it might have been the first time that many Clevelanders became familiar with Lynn Hampton or realized that the CPPA isn't the only police union in the city.
Hampton, the president of the Black Shield, the African-American police union, spoke out vehemently against the choice. The Black Shield was first formed in 1946 as a social club of sorts and is one of the oldest minority police unions in the country. What started as a place where minorities could go for camaraderie and support, whether it was getting a fair shake in the hiring process or a promotion, took on serious cultural issues as civil rights battles exploded in the 1970s. Two landmark cases in Cleveland, in fact, started with the Black Shield, which sued the city in 1972 over fair minority hiring practices and again in 1975 to get more women on the job. Its size and relevance has ebbed and flowed since then, experiencing a downturn with poor leadership during the Mike White era. And though its membership is historically small — about 200 — its importance may never be more sizable. Though all of its members belong to the CPPA, and while CPPA holds the bargaining power with the city, opinions on issues of violence, police brutality and politics voiced by human megaphone Steve Loomis, the president of the CPPA, don't always reflect the opinions of all the cops on the force.
"I think I may have one up on Steve, because I've been African-American all my life," says Hampton, a 23-year veteran on the force who grew up in the St. Clair neighborhood on the same block with three other friends who also became cops. "It can be frustrating because at times. ... The commentary you're giving is how you see things, your reality and your world. His reality and world are different than mine. I see how African-Americans have issues with the police here and all over the country."
That history in Cleveland is full of blemishes, from hiring practices to high-profile cases such as Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson and Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
"Some things I agree on with Steve, and there are others I don't," Hampton says. "When people say stuff about Black Lives Matter and compare them to the Ku Klux Klan, which he has, I want to ask if he knows his history. Like, do you know why the Black Panthers was formed? Because it's what's happening now. I look at hearings from 1966 and you'd think it was modern day. It sounds like stuff from last week."
Whereas Loomis rails against the consent decree, Hampton see a long history that falls right in line with the pattern and practice that the Justice Department found when it examined Cleveland's police force.
"Is it a coincidence that there were twentysomething cities with consent decrees?" he asks, noting how Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the current administration view the findings. "The black community already was looking at the police with a critical eye. How are you going to fix the problem if you pretend it's not there? The police make mistakes, and they need to admit when they do."
Hampton notes that even if something happens that isn't local, something in South Carolina, or Minnesota, or Cincinnati, it still affects how people view the police here. Which is part of what his job entails — being a community voice and face, fostering communication between the residents and the police. The Black Shield contributes book bags and school supplies to kids, and Hampton is pursuing an ambitious mentoring program. The Shield also helps recruit prospective cops to prepare for and take entrance exams.
"I'm a firm believer that the demographics of the force should reflect the demographics of the population," Hampton says, noting that Cleveland is still a ways off from that ideal. The same goes for promotions to the upper levels of the department. "If everything was fair, there wouldn't be a need for the Black Shield. But here we are." — Vince Grzegorek