The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Cleveland Police Department has another problem

A painting of Donald Trump is seen as police stand guard outside Public Square at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
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As a shrinking Midwestern city of about 388,000, Cleveland is not the sort of place that outside of presidential-election years gets a lot of national media attention.

But this year, Cleveland has hosted the Republican National convention and more than one massive Donald Trump rally. With the help of federal dollars that can come with holding certain major events, the city's police department has become the proud owner of unspecified surveillance and crowd-control devices, which have both civil liberties activists and some citizens concerned.

The reason: Long before Trump and the Republican Party brought heightened attention on Cleveland, a grand jury in December declined to indict a Cleveland police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old black child in a city park in response to a 911 call about a man with a gun. The caller did tell the dispatcher that the person was possibly a child playing with a toy, but that information apparently was not relayed to the officers.

Ari Melber, a journalist and lawyer, in a Washington Post op-ed described Tim McGinty's handling of the Tamir Rice case as "upside down," with the prosecutor using the grand jury as more of a "sounding board for an exoneration of the potential defendants, rather than as a review of possible charges against them." Later, the city sued the boy's family for unpaid medical expenses before dropping the claim.

In May 2015, a judge acquitted another Cleveland police officer facing criminal charges in the shooting deaths of two unarmed black adults. The officer was one of 13 who fired a total of 137 bullets into a fleeing car but the only one who mounted the vehicle's hood and fired 15 shots at the unarmed occupants after the car had come to a stop and the other officers had ceased shooting. Also in May 2015, the city's police department agreed to federal oversight and restrictions on the ways in which police routinely use force, including a ban on using force or weapons because someone talked back, pistol-whipping and firing warning shots.

A Washington Post investigation of officer-involved shootings: Thousands dead, few prosecuted

Now, with all of that in the not-so-distant past, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association has set a membership vote Friday on whether to endorse Trump for president.

The union's roughly 1,000 members are expected to do so, on the grounds that Trump is the "pro-police" candidate. Steve Loomis, who is the union's president and is white, is a vocal Trump supporter and has advocated for both the endorsement and the full membership vote after also attending a Trump rally in full police uniform. Lynn Hampton, president of the Black Shield Police Association, a black officer subgroup within the union, has described the union endorsement vote as one that seems set to divide the union ranks along racial lines and inflame community distrust in a city where the relationship between police and residents of color is already, at best, fraught. The move may be regarded as intentionally antagonistic.

Some officers involved in the meetings where the larger union's leadership decided to put the issue to a membership vote also thought it wise to stay out of national political matters and focus on local races.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Many officers predict that members of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association will vote to endorse Republican candidate Donald Trump, whose hardline stances on policing and immigration have sparked outrage and fear within black and Hispanic communities.
A vote to endorse Trump would risk further eroding the relationship between police officers and minority communities at a time when the department is working to rebuild trust after a series of controversial deaths involving police, multiple officers told
"You're dealing with a community that is predominantly African-American and Democratic," Lynn Hampton, president of the Black Shield, the union that represents black police officers, said. "You can't keep drawing lines in the sand and taking certain stances when the community is as frustrated as it is."
The Black Shield falls under the CPPA, which represents more than 1,000 patrol officers and detectives.

Cleveland, to be clear, is just over 53 percent black, 37 percent white and, in 2010, 10 percent Latino. The city is also dominated by Democrats, while the surrounding state is more of a political mix and regarded as a key ingredient in any Republican victory. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.

Trump has made a particular show of similar endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, a national police organization, and the union that represents Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents. Their support is evidence, he has said, that he is the candidate with the ideas that law enforcement officers think are necessary to maintain public safety and secure the country's borders.

What Trump has not said is that black officers in several cities have repudiated the Fraternal Order of Police's decision to endorse Trump. According to the organization, the Fraternal Order is the world's largest police union, with more than 330,000 members. But within its ranks, the decision to endorse Trump has created divisions that run largely along racial and ethnic lines. Fraternal Order President Chuck Canterbury has become a fixture on cable news programs covering the spate of shooting deaths and use-of-force incidents involving a disproportionate share of black men. Canterbury often advances the idea that any effort to question, closely examine or challenge the conduct of police amounts to an anti-police stance and has described the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group.

Despite that, the logic of police endorsements for Trump and Trump's decision to publicize them is not exactly clear. Friday's union vote in Cleveland poses a political (or, at least, a perception) problem for Cleveland's police and, oddly, may provide limited benefit to Trump. Voters already in Trump's camp — an overwhelmingly white group — tend to support his "law and order" stance and his plans to codify and implement profiling tactics if elected. It's voters whose support eludes Trump — women of all races, men of color and young white Americans — who are far more divided on these practices and ideas.