Cleveland Councilman Kevin Conwell Stopped by CWRU Campus Police, Victim of Racial Profiling?


Councilman Kevin Conwell, flanked by Tara Samples and Dennis Kucinch, speaks about gun violence at Kucinich campaign event (2/19/2018). - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Councilman Kevin Conwell, flanked by Tara Samples and Dennis Kucinch, speaks about gun violence at Kucinich campaign event (2/19/2018).
Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell was stopped by Case Western Reserve University police Friday on a daily constitutional through campus, near his home in Ward 9. A caller had alerted police dispatch that a black man with missing teeth was mumbling on a street corner near the Weatherhead School of Management.

Conwell told after the incident that he believed he was the victim of racial profiling and wondered what might have happened if he didn't identify himself as a Cleveland City Councilman. (The officers told him he was free to go after he said who he was.)

"If I can't walk through my own neighborhood, I'm sure they're stopping my residents," he said.

University President Barb Snyder apologized, and said that while the campus police had already been trained in "the tenets of community policing," the university would provide additional education over the next few weeks.

Police Chief Jay Hodge, for his part, said police were reviewing the incident and would reinforce community policing best practices. He said that Conwell's coat and hat matched the color descriptions (tan and blue, respectively) provided by the caller.

Conwell has been in D.C. this week with the National League of Cities, but he said he plans to meet with CWRU's campus police chief Friday.

Just as troubling as the police stop — which involved multiple officers — was the call that led to it. The caller, who sounds like a female student, called dispatch because a man was standing on the corner and "mumbling." (You can listen to the call here.)

"I don't know if he was necessarily suspicious..." the caller said. "He was just on the street corner and I don't think he's necessarily a part of campus."

Students shouldn't be fearful of taking proactive measures if and when they feel threatened, but the caller never says that she felt unsafe or that she was pursued. In fact, it's unclear to what extent the caller even interacted with the man. At first, she said the man was mumbling to himself. But when the dispatcher asked if he said anything to the caller, she said yes, "but I have no idea what it was. He was missing some teeth and I was just, like, not sure what he was saying."

The possibilities are many: Perhaps he was a panhandler, as surmised. Perhaps he was a mentally handicapped man talking to himself. Perhaps he really was Councilman Kevin Conwell, offering a friendly greeting that was misinterpreted or misheard. Perhaps he was a predator. 

And while hammering community policing tenets into the campus police force is absolutely advisable, it also might not hurt to reinforce (or teach?) some basic sensitivity to the student population. 

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