There is a stain darkening the city of Cleveland, and it is threatening to leach so many good intentions here as we prepare to welcome tens of thousands of visitors to the Republican National Convention.
This stain has a name: Steve Loomis. He is president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association. Unbelievably, he is also a member of the Cleveland Community Police Commission, which was mandated by a federal court to come up with policy reforms for a police department that he thinks needs no fixing.
If I've learned anything about Loomis from our long, meandering interviews, it's his certainty that there's nothing wrong with the Cleveland police force that a more appreciative, compliant population wouldn't fix. Over many months, his ill will has seeped out, bringing dishonor to the men and women he was elected to represent and telegraphing an open disdain for the community he is charged to protect.
We saw Loomis at it again this week, only hours after the city of Cleveland announced a $6 million settlement with the family of Tamir Rice.
Tamir is the 12-year-old black boy who was playing with an air pellet gun in a city park in November 2014 when a police car swept up next to him in response to a call from a 9-1-1 dispatcher, who failed to convey the witness's belief that his gun was not real. Seconds later, Tamir was on the ground, mortally wounded by gunshots from a police officer who, personnel files later revealed, should never have been hired.
Our city — in our neighborhoods, I mean, where we see boys like Tamir every day — has never stopped reeling from this boy's death.
The prosecutor who failed to call for a grand jury indictment against the two white officers lost re-election in this year's Democratic primary. Nationally, we are the consent-decree city now. Reporters occasionally still sweep in to see what, if any, progress we're making in the wake of a 58-page Department of Justice report that chronicled a pattern of unreasonable and excessive force so extreme and systemic — and unconstitutional — that reforms must unfold through court supervision.
From day one, Loomis has blasted that report as riddled with lies and the consent decree as a waste of his time.
With the announcement of the financial settlement of the Rice family's civil suit against the city, there was a collective sigh of relief from those of us who have yearned for something more than that hollow space between the wringing of hands from good people who feel helpless and the insistence of racists that Tamir had it coming.
The money does not bring justice, because not one cent of it will bring back Tamir Rice. It comes with no admission of guilt, either, on the part of the city. But for a moment at least, we could allow ourselves the fantasy that somewhere, in the depths of relentless official denial, burns an ember of regret.
And then Loomis weighed in, with a written statement that read, in part:
"We can only hope the Rice family and their attorneys will use a portion of this settlement to help educate the youth of Cleveland in the dangers associated with the mishandling of both real and facsimile firearms. Something positive must come from this tragic loss. That would be educating youth of the dangers of possessing a real or replica firearm.
"We look forward to the possibility of working with the Rice family to achieve this common goal."
Immediately, I thought of Samaria Rice, who told me last year in an interview for Politico that she watches that video clip of her son's shooting over and over, tracking his every moment — looking for a sign, any sign, that Tamir knew what was about to happen to him. She told me how she had fixed him lunch just an hour before, how she never had seen the air pellet gun he was hiding in his jacket because he knew his mother would never have allowed him to play with it.
So typical of Loomis to blame the victim and — as I am increasingly discovering through dozens of off-the-record interviews with his rank-and-file members — to misrepresent the men and women he is supposed to champion. He is "an embarrassment," they tell me. He is making their "jobs harder." He is, an officer told me last month, possibly putting their lives at greater risk by casting the Cleveland police as mortal enemies of our neighborhoods.
If Loomis does not dial back his rhetoric, he could endanger not just Cleveland's citizens and its police officers but also the many guests and activists who will soon swarm this city for what is already expected to be a contentious Republican National Convention.
The stain is spreading, and there is no substitute for leadership to make it stop.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.