In a demonstration of solidarity with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the city of Cleveland is preparing to implement modifications for its police department. The reshaping of Cleveland’s police procedures is the result of a 2014 DOJ report which concluded the Cleveland police department engaged in a pattern of civil-rights violations and had applied excessive force during the apprehension of suspects.
Under the agreement, the city’s mayor, Frank Jackson, agreed to formulate a new plan for policing and the city accepted a consent decree, which requires Cleveland to submit to federal supervision for an unspecified period. The announcement today comes in the wake of the acquittal of a Cleveland Police Officer, Michael Brelo, charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed citizens. Protests erupted in the aftermath of the verdict; dozens were arrested; and the DOJ has stated it will review the Brelo case.
Is it necessary to involve the Department of Justice in every inner-city police shooting?
While not a blow to democracy to cede temporary control to the federal court system, it is entirely fair to speculate on the recent motives of the DOJ. There are indeed troubling revelations in the Cleveland report: It confesses an unrelentingly gloomy portrait of the actions of certain police officers who can alter the path of those who enter their orbit. Proposed changes in policing and the consent decree can yield benefits: Court administration over Cleveland serves to compel compliance and prevent Cleveland from potential dilatory tactics.
However, what is troubling is the appearance of selective justice: Does disgruntled banter from putative constituencies of conscience qualify for intervention of the probing minds at the DOJ?
While racism and overly-aggressive policing can stubbornly prevail, fairness imposed from the federal government is not always guaranteed. The frequency of DOJ intercession in delicate cases leaves the uncomfortable impression the DOJ is an intellectual, political or philosophical competitor as opposed to a final arbiter of justice in the race-sensitive cases of late.
Some valid claims exist and it may be an exploration of an important dialectic, but the DOJ’s constant trespassing may lead to grotesque policymaking.