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Making amends for Tamir Rice as Cleveland prepares for a new Community Police Commission

Gregory Carey Sons of Cleveland United
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Gregory Carey, president of a community outreach organization called Sons of Cleveland United, says the city has to do more to prevent another incident like the police killing of Tamir Rice.

Gregory Carey is standing in the shadow of Cudell Recreation Center, beside the city park where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by Cleveland police eight years ago. Carey works with kids at a school nearby.

He runs a community outreach organization called Sons of Cleveland United. He’s born and raised in Cleveland and lives in the West Park neighborhood.

The gazebo where Tamir Rice was playing when he was shot has been removed. It’s been replaced by a small garden, with a few tulips blooming already on this early spring day.

Carey believes the police department has never really made up for what happened that day in November 2014, beyond a $6 million settlement with the Rice family.

“But how much is a life worth? A young life,” Carey said. “He could have went on to be a scientist, or something one day, or to impact the world.”

Gregory Carey at Jefferson Park
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Gregory Carey sits in Jefferson Park in Cleveland.

There was never an apology from the department, Carey said, and it’s unclear to him that anything has been done to make sure something like that won’t happen again.

The space between the grass where the Cleveland police cruiser stopped and where Rice was playing with a toy gun is small — just a few feet away.

Carey says there was no reason for the officer to have gotten so close so quickly, if they actually thought Rice was a threat to shoot them.

“Not just roll up like the wild, wild west. Like it's ‘Diehard 3,’” Carey said. “That's not how that works. So, you know, they're not following protocol, and they have to be held accountable.”

Eventually, the city fired Timothy Loehmann, the officer who killed Rice. But Loehmann was never charged criminally. He was fired for lying on his application to join the force. The driver, Officer Frank Garmback, kept his job after the city imposed a 10-day suspension and some retraining.

Carey says the city has to do more to keep something like Rice’s death from happening again.

“We have to. We have to,” Carey said. “Because it's going to get, it's getting out of control. But, hopefully, Cleveland can be the example, can be the prototype of how to make a difference.”

“Since the civil rights movement and here, the Hough riots, and all those things that have occurred in the past, there's always been a slight distrust. But now, it's way beyond that. Like, it's probably that times 10.”
Gregory Carey

The new Community Police Commission, when it’s up and running, would be able to review any discipline handed down by the police chief and safety director. But the process of appeal and arbitration laid out in the police union’s contract isn’t likely to change.

In Loehmann’s case, he was fired following an internal investigation, but then got his job back in arbitration. The arbitrator also cut Garmback’s suspension in half.

Still, the hope among police reform activists is that the Community Police Commission’s new disciplinary powers will change officer behavior before an incident like Rice’s killing can happen again. Carey thinks that’s possible.

 Gregory Carey
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Gregory Carey works with kids at a school near the park where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer.

“It would definitely help if an officer knew that if he killed someone wrong, he was going to get the same fate as a regular citizen,” Carey said.

He says his own preference for addressing police accountability is to build a separate justice system for them. He suggests a prison just for police officers, similar to how the military has its own prison system.

“They don't put cops in jail, they put ex-cops in jail,” Carey said. “Because they're going to kick you off the force before they lock you up. So, they strip you of that title, and that makes you subject to the regular laws, when, no, it shouldn't be like that.”

Carey believes something has to change in Cleveland. The city is more dangerous than he can remember in his lifetime. And, he says, residents and the police are going to have to start working together to fix it.

This is the second of three stories with the voices of Clevelanders on policing in the city.

Matthew Richmond is a general assignment reporter at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.