As the relationship between the Cleveland Division of Police and communities that they are sworn to protect and serve evolves, a recent incident involving a young Black man speaks volumes about the problems that exist in Cleveland’s Black community. Shase Howse, a 20 year old African American male who lives on East 102nd Street in the City’s Glenville neighborhood was recently a victim of blatant racial profiling at the hands of the Cleveland Division of Police. The account of his involvement with the Cleveland Police, the criminal justice system and the NAACP’s support bears being told and, more importantly, holds lessons as to how far Cleveland’s minority community still has yet to go.
The facts are as follows:
On August 27, 2016 at approximately 9:00 p.m. Shase walked from his home on East 102nd Street to a convenience store located diagonally across St. Clair Avenue to purchase cigarettes. While enroute to the store and for no apparent reason, other than the fact that he was Black man walking in a “high crime area.” he was stopped by a Cleveland policeman and illegally searched. (Reminiscent of “stop and frisk tactics that have consistently been ruled unconstitutional by numerous state and federal courts.) At the time that he was stopped and searched he had committed no crime and the police had neither “reasonable suspicion” nor “probable cause” to conduct a stop or search. Nevertheless, he was stopped and searched and, after the police determined that he was unarmed and not in possession of any contraband, he was permitted to go on about his business. Upon his return home and while standing on his porch attempting to unlock his front door, he fumbled in the darkness for his keys. As he located his keys, a Cleveland police patrol car was patrolling the area, driving on East 102nd Street. The two officers in the patrol car, who contended that they were “trained”, noticed Shase standing on his porch and, apparently, became suspicious that he might be attempting to break-in. (Apparently, attempting to enter one’s home on East 102nd Street at 9:00 p.m. is grounds for suspicion by supposedly trained policemen.) The official report prepared by the officers described his neighborhood as being a “high crime” area and contended that they were actually patrolling East 102nd Street because there had been an “uptick” of felonious assault shootings and gang-related activity in the area. The police report also indicated that a “vigil” was being held in the neighborhood for a murder victim and the police often patrol such vigils because people that attend such vigils are known to be armed and carry firearms. (As ridiculous as that sounds, that is the position of the Cleveland Division of Police that was contained in their official report.) While Shase Howse was attempting to unlock his door he noticed the police cruiser driving in front of his house and looked to see what was happening. After noticing Shase on his porch, the police officers exited the car and asked if that was his house and whether he lived there. Having already been illegally searched and being understandably upset, Shase replied that he did, in fact, live there and said “…what the fuck difference does it make and why are you messing with me.” Apparently, the police were offended by the coarse nature of his language which, of course, was not a crime and, although he had reported that it was his house that he was attempting to enter, instead of verifying his claim, the police officers threw him to the ground, put cuffs on his wrists and placed him under arrest. In an attempt to justify their actions, the police did contend that Shase raised his hand towards them as they approached him which they interpreted as his assuming a fighting position. Shase emphatically denied that he was threatening the police although he does acknowledge that his language, although intemperate, was neither illegal nor threatening. While the police were struggling with Shase on his porch, his mother came to the scene and begged for the police to stop beating him since it was his home. Unfortunately, they did not stop and, following a struggle, succeeded in arresting him on the front porch of his house in the presence of numerous neighborhood witnesses. After his arrest, the police placed him in their patrol car and transported him to city jail.
Shase was held in jail over the week-end and, thereafter, indicted for two felony counts of assault on police officers and one count of obstruction of official business. (Of course, it was Shase who was actually assaulted and the only official business with which the police were involved was Shase’s unlawful arrest.) Following Shase’s release on bond he was “recommended” for acceptance into a diversion program so that, following a plea of “guilty” and providing that he did not become involved in any additional criminal activity or receive any additional charges his criminal record would be sealed.
After the NAACP became aware of the situation, an investigation was commenced to determine the merits of the case and, specifically, to determine whether Shase was improperly profiled and charged with crimes of which he was completely innocent. That investigation revealed that Shase was actually the innocent victim and the police were attempting to justify their actions to rationalized what was, obviously, an assault by the police and a false arrest.
Following Shase’s indictment, his case was randomly assigned to the docket of Common Pleas Judge Nancy McDonnell. Since the NAACP had determined that there was no merit to the charges and that Shase was an innocent victim, they agreed to provide Shase with “pro bono” representation. During a “pre-trial” conference, the assistant prosecuting attorney inquired as to whether Shase would now be “interested” in accepting a plea bargain to a misdemeanor and indicated that the police might be willing to accept a reduction of the charges to “Disorderly Conduct.” Of course, a plea to Disorderly Conduct would permit the police to at least obtain some justification for their actions and avoid having their illegal arrest ruled as being objectively unreasonable. The proposal to have Shase plead guilty to any offense was flatly rejected and it was made clear that the case would have to be decided at trial, probably by a jury. Following additional conferences the NAACP’s position was reiterated and it was made clear that a complete dismissal would be the only acceptable way of resolving the case. Thereafter, the assistant prosecuting attorney admitted that the police had “messed up” and, consequently, that the State would dismiss all charges, without prejudice. (The “without prejudice” dismissal means that, should the State be so inclined, they could re-file the charges.)
Basically, Cleveland police searched, assaulted and arrested an innocent man for no reason other than the fact that he was attempting to enter his own home in what they described as a “high crime area.” It would be unimaginable that this type of conducted would be acceptable in any “non-minority” community and the African American citizens of Cleveland should find this travesty equally unacceptable. In making a bad situation substantially worse, an innocent young man was indicted by a Cuyahoga County Grand Jury, forced to post a bond and subjected to the indignities of being drug tested when he declined to plead guilty and enter into a diversion program.
In summary, the action on the part of the Cleveland police in assaulting, arresting and having an innocent person indicted is, at best, indicative of gross indifference of the rights of Cleveland citizens who the police are sworn to protect and serve and, at worse, gross criminal misconduct. Although the U. S. Department of Justice found the Cleveland Division of Police responsible for engaging in “patterns or practices” of using excessive force, apparently, some police officers have yet to get the message, continue to abuse their authority and feel that disrespecting young Black men is acceptable policing. For those police officers who ignore the law and their sworn responsibilities as guardians of the peace, the court-approved Consent Decree in which The City agreed to train police in how to engage in “bias free policing”, “de-escalation techniques” and “criminal as opposed to racial profiling” has yet to take effect. Unfortunately, the “racial profiling” to which Shase and other Black men are subjected on a daily basis is not just indicative of poor police work but violates the Ohio Constitution, the United States Constitution and the laws of the state of Ohio and the United States of America.
To emphasize the point, a recent study that was publicized by the National Network for Safe Communities determined that one of the major results associated with the use of excessive force by police is an increase of violence in the community. This scholarly research documented the fact that “publicized cases of police violence against unarmed black men have a clear and significant impact on citizen crime report.” The proximate result of police violence means that more criminal activity goes unreported in black neighborhoods which actually results in increased criminal activity. Therefore, not only did the illegal actions by the police against Shase constitute illegal profiling and violate his constitutional rights but may well result in an uptick in criminal activity by creating a distrust against the police based on the reluctance of members of the black community to contact police who they perceive as the enemy as opposed to officers who are committed to “protecting and serving.”
So, as we wonder whether there exists a need for a strong and vigilant NAACP to protect the rights of members of the minority community and speak for people who have no voice, ask Shase Howse and the answer might be informative.