'Black Lives Matter is a Terrorist Organization' — The Cleveland Police Union's Ugly History With BLM

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SEQUOIA BOSTICK
  • Sequoia Bostick
At the tail end of a conversation in early June hosted by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association between Black Lives Matter Cleveland co-founder Kareem Henton and Joseph Delguyd, an attorney for the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, the union lawyer offered Henton his cell phone number so the two sides could maintain an open dialogue between activists and police going forward.

The gesture came after an hour of mostly civil debate on what the momentous national movement toward police accountability in the wake of the George Floyd protests might mean locally, with Henton arguing that the union's steadfast and recalcitrant defense of officers accused of misconduct means they're "complicit in the aggressive police culture that exists," and Delguyd largely defending recent efforts to reform under the current Consent Decree but acknowledging, "If there is change coming and we can be part of that change, we'd like to be."



A week after, Scene asked Henton to reflect on the conversation. He had three main takeaways.

First, that Delguyd was only doing his job as a rep for the union shop.



Second, that the union agreed to be part of the conversation at all, and that the lawyer made the long-overdue gesture to open a dialogue, indicates just how powerful the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement has become.

"We go from the inflammatory talk that we would normally get from [Steve] Loomis or [Jeff] Follmer to him saying, 'I'd love to talk to you.' That means they're nervous," he said. "They're seeing us for who we really are — as folks that are trying to advocate for necessary change. There's legitimacy. And folks acknowledge the legitimacy of the protests. That's a heck of a message."

And third, that the union's longstanding efforts to defend Timothy Loehmann, among others, shows the CPPA hasn't strayed far from its origins.

"I think about the history of their inception and this all being business as usual," he said.

That history, Henton noted, is right there on CPPA's website, though it tells a false story with a string of mostly true sentences.

***

"Like much of the progress obtained in policing in America, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association was born out of the most tragic day in the history of the Cleveland Police Department," the site says. "On July 23, 1968, in the Glenville Section of the city, rioting militants murdered three of our own, and a fourth officer died years later as result of his injuries inflicted that day. While there was no shortage of valor, courage and relentless spirit among the officers that finally brought calm back to the city that day, there was an obvious shortage of necessary equipment which could have saved the lives of police officers as well as the brave civilians who attempted to save them."

"Under the guidance and assistance of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, the CPPA was formed in January 1969 and became the labor union for all non-supervisory Patrol Officers. Prior to the formation of our Association, our officers took their chances in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to address any grievances. Through successful labor contracts, work hours, sick and vacation time off, and worker rights quickly replaced blanket mistreatment of patrol officers. Out of the tragedy of the Glenville Riots and due to the loud voices of the survivors who fought that day, street officers were soon issued portable radios which enabled citywide communications. Also, the fist Tactical Unit was formed, which trained and equipped specific officers to respond to especially dangerous situations such as riots and barricaded suspects. This valuable unit later became the modern-day Special Weapons and Tactics Unit, or SWAT."

The formation of the CPPA did come in response to the Glenville riots, and yes, the Boston police union, an outfit long noted for its surpassing dedication to racial equity, lent its support, but the cops' grievances weren't all about radios and sick time.

Police reform had topped Carl Stokes' mayoral campaign promises in 1967, and though he intended to correct a laundry list of problems that beset a police force nagged by corruption and violence, the relationship between the mostly white department and the city's Black citizens was paramount.

"All the police knew that few policeman faced charges or an appearance before the grand jury for shooting a Black man while on duty," Stokes said.

This did not make Stokes many friends in the rank and file, many of whom preferred to unleash violence on Cleveland's Black population with an immunity they'd grown comfortably accustomed to.

And when Glenville erupted, those white officers felt personally and deeply aggrieved when, instead of letting white cops parade through the rioting streets with high-powered rifles, Stokes, after convening a large City Hall meeting of only African-American leaders and officials, sidelined white officers from Glenville, allowing only Black officers and the National Guard to work to restore order. Stokes was also vocally critical of the role he felt Cleveland police had played in the violence, writing in his autobiography later that they had been "self-protective, corrupt and destructive."

"There was tension in the department," one Black female officer told the Plain Dealer. "The whites wanted to go out there and even things up."

"Tell Stokes to go piss on it. Fuck that n——r mayor," cops radioed each other, according to a federal report on the aftermath.

Fear gripped the city's mostly white west side; cops openly revolted against the police chief and mayor. Fliers were distributed in white neighborhoods warning that invading rioters were coming for their property, and their bodies. The relationship between Cleveland's Black community and police was further enflamed.

"We're like a British outpost in Africa," one patrolman told the Plain Dealer after Glenville, channeling some deep racist feelings.

"This had clearly been a fear all along, that a Black mayor would interfere with the police function of protecting the white community against black peril," Stokes wrote in his autobiography.

Roldo Bartimole, writing for The Nation in July of 1969, weighed how the conversation over police violence and race relations had evolved, or regressed, one year after the riots.

"The Civil Violence Center report concluded that the Glenville battle may have 'marked the beginning of a new pattern' away from black violence against property to 'violence aimed at personal injury.' Its failure, however, to put the same test to motivations and actions of white policemen at the outset of the conflict opens the report to criticisms of reaching the conclusions it set out to find, if not succumbing to a racist view of violence. This is suggested by its failure to examine the implications of escalating white violence, despite gory accounts of it in the report. The desire to measure the rise of black violence may produce a self-fulfilling theory as each new black-white confrontation is tested by the question, ‘Is this an escalation of the black revolution?’ Black violence may escalate, and if it does one may be sure that the state and the courts will not condone it. But with the results of the Ahmed Evans case before us, one cannot be so sure of the same opposition to white violence."

This was when the CPPA was born, and the question of Cleveland's appetite for opposition to white violence was clear in the ensuing years.

As the nascent union sought collective bargaining and battled for supremacy and membership against the Fraternal Order of Police, which many officers felt had done little to protect or better their interests (essentially meaning it was not staunch enough in its efforts to battle back reforms), Black bodies piled up in the streets and Black officers lamented the continued violence of those protected and defended by the CPPA and FOP.

As Kyle Swenson detailed in his rich history of Cleveland's police and racial issues of the early 1970s, a Black police sergeant in 1970 told the Call and Post he wondered whether Cleveland police had shown up to an apartment with local Black Panther Party members to "execute a search warrant or to execute any Blacks found there."

The Call and Post was also at that time running a recurring anonymous column by a Black Cleveland officer, Arthur X, that laid bare what was happening every day on the streets. "Black officers have spoken privately for some time on matters involving questionable police tactics and unequal application of the criminal justice system in Black communities. I saw seven or eight policemen without badges hitting some Black kids over the head for no apparent reason. It was as if they were trying to see how many they could get. If I, as a policeman, couldn't do anything about the police violence, then what the hell could the citizens do about it?"

The racial lines were clear, even as the CPPA paid lip service to diversity. One officer told the Plain Dealer at the time that as James Magas, the first president of the union, recruited members, "They came to me and said I was a fink and a n——r lover if I didn't join."

It was Us Against Them, as cops told the local papers, and the only way forward according to the union was to Ammo Up.

"What we need right now, right away, are armored vehicles. In the Glenville shootings, they were the victors, they were ambush victors," Magas told the paper.

As the union effort progressed, it became clear that not only was the war on, but that it should be fought with as little accountability as possible.

"Organizers insist that unionization means more pay, better grievance procedures, and a foothold in the political arena where, they claim, they have been buffeted by politicians for years," the Plain Dealer reported in 1969. "They claim, 'Every time something happens, it's the police or the police department. Every time there's a disorder and the police use as much force as necessary, it's brutality. 'We don't want more rights,' one organizer says. 'We want the same rights as other minority groups.'"

The force's own true minority members felt ostracized, and two years later, it wasn't the CPPA or FOP that fought a legal battle to make the city hire more minority officers, but the Black Shield, the African-American union.

(Magas did, however, in 1971 vouch full CPPA support and resources for five East Cleveland officers who shot and killed an unarmed Black Shaw high school teacher named Mose Wendell Mitchell, and that even after witnesses came forward to tell East Cleveland and the Plain Dealer that Mitchell did nothing to invite the bullets.

"The suspension of a police officer without pay to ease tension from pressure groups must be condemned," a CPPA statement read at the time.)

So, yeah, when you set out to open a belated dialogue between the union and Black Lives Matter — a pressure group, if you will — and all of that history is hard-baked into your DNA, and the same themes keep coming up, it's vital to talk about it.

"They were never going to let another Black mayor stop them from doing what they were going to do. They wanted to go into Glenville and kill people. They were so pissed they couldn't go in and eff people up," Henton said. "I think about that history and how now is business as usual, unconditionally supporting officers."

***

THE CPPA UNION HALL, WITH ITS BLUE LIVES MATTER FLAG
  • The CPPA union hall, with its Blue Lives Matter flag

To Henton, that the Black Shield has to exist to this day, and that it has to issue statements responding to things like the CPPA announcing a "solidarity moment" in the wake of the George Floyd BLM protests "for those suffering from the devastation being caused to our community and our law enforcement families," puts a fine point on how the union speaks, or fails to speak, for minority officers and residents.

("Demonstrations like this divide safety forces within their ranks and serve only to further marginalize and alienate community members. This demonstration will impede progress and redirect progressive narratives away from Constitutionally protected community voices attempting to enact critical reforms," the Black Shield said in response to the CPPA.)

Speaking on the panel in June, Henton told Delguyd that union officials, "say the most incendiary things and make brash and insensitive statements against the family members of victims of police violence."

Henton can see the through line from 1969 to today.

Where Cleveland union officials once declared that, "This country doesn't need a Black Panther Party. They have to be wiped out," union officials have in recent memory opined that, "Black Lives Matter is a domestic terrorist organization."

That's what Steve Loomis, who's traded the CPPA president slot with Jeff Follmer a couple times in the last decade, said not once but many times in 2016 and 2017 on Fox News and elsewhere as he gave full-throated support to Donald Trump's campaign and even took the historic step of calling a union vote to endorse his candidacy for president.

It's also what one Cleveland police dispatcher wrote on Facebook after the recent BLM protests. (Follmer told Cleveland.com that anything posted on Facebook should be considered protected by the First Amendment.)

The inflammatory gasbagging by Loomis wasn't an anomaly for the cop shop, which in every instance of horrifying violence against Black Clevelanders from Tamir Rice on forward has gone beyond the expected deployment of PR to antagonize and belittle the community members who have suffered losses or dared to take a public stand.

Follmer might be less physically and psychically dependent on the spotlight than Loomis, but his public statements are no less offensive simply because they appear less often. (Follmer did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.)

A recent history of the mouths of both men:

- When Browns' receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt reading “Justice for Tamir Rice And John Crawford III” in 2014, Follmer responded by saying:

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology."

- Loomis, who was president-elect at the time, couldn't help but chime in:

"Entertainers should entertain and not dip into the world of politics. (A world in which MOST are incredibly under qualified to participate.) While we recognize and support 1st amendment rights of all citizens, there are a select and fortunate few that must be held to a higher standard. I have two words for them, Dixie Chicks. The group expressed their political views during concerts and single handily and very quickly destroyed their careers!

"The words and actions of sports and entertainment personalities carry a certain amount of weight no matter how uneducated, inciting, and false those opinions are. Entertainers expressing their political views should choose their words and actions wisely. Most of the folks that go to Browns/ Cavs games, (me included) go to support their team, the players, and community. We spend our hard earned money to enjoy time with friends and family and distract ourselves from the day to day grind of life. WE DO NOT go to these games to deal with the personal and political messages from players."

- In 2016 when the city reached a $6 million settlement in the wrongful death of Tamir Rice, Loomis went out of his way to issue a statement demanding that Samaria Rice donate a portion of the money toward, of all things, gun education. "Something positive must come from this tragic loss," he wrote.

- In 2016 when a dozen officers involved in the chase and 137-shot killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were disciplined, Loomis invited the media to the union hall for a bombastic speech lambasting the "politically motivated and insane" decision by the City.

"I'm going to get beat up for saying bad guys, but dammit, that's what it is," Loomis said. "Those folks had a choice to make and those folks didn't make it. Continuously."

"Our goal is to get in front of an arbitrator who's not swayed by politics or any national discussion," Loomis said. "Politics in this city is absolutely appalling."

"Now Loomis is going to be the bad guy because I'm going to go get their jobs back," Loomis said. "And I promise these guys are going to get their jobs back."

- In 2017, as NFL players, including members of the Browns, took knees during the national anthem to protest police violence, Loomis issued a lengthy, rambling, insulting statement saying Cleveland police would, in a counter protest of sorts, refuse to show up to games to hold the American flag.

"We decided to pull out of the event after we learned Browns management 'supports their players freedom of expression' and that management and their coach knew of and apparently condoned this despicable display. We decided we will not support the hypocrisy of the Browns management and some of its obviously oppressed millionaire players.

"The fact the Browns management and ownership are unable or unwilling to control their employees negative and controversial actions may be demonstrative as to why the team performs so pitifully on the field year after year.

"There comes a point where a stand must be taken. There comes a point where tolerance is no longer taking 'the high road,' it is the easy road. We are way past that point with the Browns, the city administration, and the national false narrative against police and the law-abiding citizens that support us."

The police would protest, Loomis explained with little self-reflection, "not because we do not love our country or our flag, but because we do."

- After the city of Cleveland in 2017 reached a settlement to pay $50,000 to six people arrested during the protests following the acquittal of Michael Brelo in the Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams killings, Loomis said:

"The City of Cleveland continuously sends the wrong message by paying wrongdoers for their criminal activity. The men and women of the Cleveland Police Department and our chief did a great job in allowing peaceful protests while policing violent behavior. It is very unfortunate the city continues to reward dangerous and criminal behavior with large cash ‘settlements’ while ignoring the great work of the CDP, our dismal staffing levels, and the ever increasing violent crime rates in every neighborhood of the city."

Of course, through all of this, the union, under both Loomis and Follmer, has fought to win back the job of Timothy Loehmann, who was fired not for shooting and killing Tamir Rice but instead for lying on his job application.

***
GEORGE FLOYD PROTEST IN DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND/ PHOTO BY SAM ALLARD
  • George Floyd protest in downtown Cleveland/ Photo by Sam Allard

These conversations are bound to accelerate as we learn more about policing and unions and the movement continues.

As the New Yorker wrote in a recent story, "In a forthcoming study, Rob Gillezeau, a professor and researcher, concluded that, from the nineteen-fifties to the nineteen-eighties, the ability of police to collectively bargain led to a substantial rise in police killings of civilians, with a greater impact on people of color. 'With the caveat that this is very early work,' Gillezeau wrote on Twitter, on May 30th, 'it looks like collective bargaining rights are being used to protect the ability of officers to discriminate in the disproportionate use of force against the non-white population.'”

Cleveland's Consent Decree now extends into 2022. It's the second such agreement with the Department of Justice based on the department's pattern and practice of civil rights violations.

Between the two, the Plain Dealer documented dozens of police-involved shootings that went unpunished alongside a mountain of other use-of-force cases that resulted in the same outcome. For instance, "All of the 4,427 [use of force] investigations by supervisors from Jan. 1, 2003, through Sept. 9, 2006, ended in the officers' favor."

In 2012, the union was steadfast in its defense when presented with years of data.

"What gets lost in all of this is that the officers are not the initiators. They're the responders. They are responding to antisocial behavior. People don't realize what it is like to be a police officer. The real problem here is the criminal element,” a union lawyer told the Plain Dealer that year in thinly veiled language. “The criminals have become more lawless. But we, as a society, focus on the officers who respond to the lawless element. We don't call out the people who initiate this conduct."

The city has meanwhile shelled out tens of millions in civil settlements for those use of-force cases both lethal and less so, and very few cops have lost their jobs.

"Two years ago, they felt like they were ahead in the propaganda war," Henton told Scene when asked how things have changed. "Now, what do we see? We're really showing the ugly side, and that it's not just about what an officer did to an unarmed victim. It's about tactics. It's about their attitudes. It's about critiquing the culture. We're all looking at the same picture now, and now words like qualified immunity and collective bargaining agreements, those words were not on the tips of most peoples' tongues before. And now people know what they mean.

"They're the same union," he said, "they're just now poised for a different approach for this battle because we have a lot more folks behind us now."

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