The Witness Project: Black and Blue

Why the Streets Don't Speak?

Reflections on Interview with Jeff Follmer, President of The Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association

By Imani Capri

 

“Without dialogue, humans are fated to walk in the darkness of their own dogmatic self-righteousness. Dialogue is the lamp by which we dispel that darkness, lighting, and making visible for each other our steps and the path ahead.” – Daisaku Ikeda

Black lives matter. That is a fact, not opinion.

Even amid the deadly COVID19 pandemic, courageous, brave souls are willing to risk their lives, in protest, to help save more Black lives.

They have gathered, for months, and continue gathering, as a human-mosaic composed of millions of diverse, masked faces, to send an earthshaking message that loss of Black lives at the hands of the police is not to be normalized.

“Black Lives Matter” is the amplified, global declaration, cry, mantra and call-to-action for justice, radical compassion, and the swift dismantling of systemic racism in all of its manifestations, especially and most urgently, regarding police reform in the United States.

In the wake of the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Desmond Franklin, and too many others who also lost their lives at the hands of police, I wondered what Cleveland’s “top cop” might have to say about the Black Lives Matter movement, police misconduct, the current state of relations between Cleveland residents and police, snitching as applied to the streets, amongst police, and more.

I interviewed Jeff Follmer, the President of The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, for more than an hour, on July 24, to find out.

In my opinion, 95.9 FM WOVU listeners and Cleveland residents in general, deserved to hear his position on current-day events, especially given his job and level of influence amongst the Cleveland police.

We discussed a wide range of topics, which included: BLM, the handling of the Tamir Rice case, the Desmond Franklin case, the U.S. Department of Justice consent decree, where Cleveland police need to improve alongside other improvements.

As a journalist, my job is to approach stories being objective, to follow and report the facts, and allow the reader or listener to decide what they do with the information reported.

As a caring, feeling African American woman and Nichiren Buddhist, I recalled the palpable pain in Samaria Rice’s eyes and how tenderly she spoke of Tamir, during an hour-long interview in November of 2019.

I maintained my objectivity with Follmer. Although, as a fellow human being, I quietly wondered whether his answers, regarding events in 2020, would demonstrate any greater level of compassion for African Americans killed by police, than when he defended and advocated on behalf of the officers who murdered Tamir Rice to be rehired.

Although Follmer was cordial in conversation, was he possibly somewhat shielded emotionally, behind his badge and loyalty to the often spoken of “Blue Shield Brotherhood” or “Blue Wall of Silence?

Follmer’s comments like, “When it comes to policing, all I see is the color blue,” or “Yes, we were under the consent decree after the 137 shots and the Rice case, but I don’t think there were that many cases of excessive force out there,” demonstrated that blue is not only the color that he and other cops may see, but it implied that blue matters most.

When asked if he, as a father, could understand Samaria Rice’s outrage at how events occurred that led to the murder of her son, Follmer responded, “… That was tragic. But I have no way of knowing or being in an officer’s head at any given situation and they want to go home too.”

An additional issue that stood out during our interview was the fact that there is currently nothing in place that requires police officers to receive, mandatory, regular emotional and mental health checkups to determine how they may be managing the stress of the job.

Employee assistance services are available, according to Follmer for police officers who voluntarily seek help.

The divide between black and blue lives remains wide all across the country and Cleveland is not exempt.

However, protest, pushing for legislative change, and continuing to engage the police in dialogue with the communities in which they work is vital to dismantling all of the dogma that prevents officers like Follmer from ‘only seeing the color blue when it comes to policing.’

Log on to www.wovu.org and click The Witness Project link to hear Imani Capri’s interview with Jeff Follmer, President of The Cleveland Police Association.