Policing in the US and Cleveland

by Billy Hallal

Formalized policing was never a foregone conclusion in the United States. For its entire colonial history and for most of its first century post-Revolution, U.S. towns and cities relied on volunteers or private policing enterprises . The first formalized force was founded in Boston in 1838 under the auspices of businessmen seeking protection for their shipping goods on the public’s dollar. As the 19th century wore on, fears of labor organizers and immigrants drove the spread of police forces to every major American city. Police drew inspiration from the antebellum slave patrols of the South in “preventive” crime control tactics that focused on the “dangerous classes.”

Cleveland, a shipping center like Boston, founded its force in 1866. Even in its infancy, it was no stranger to corruption and mismanagement: in 1876, a group of patrolmen were fired and, after appealing to a higher court, reinstated shortly after. This would become a local and national pattern. The founding of Cleveland’s police department coincided with the beginning of a decades-long decline in economic opportunities for Cleveland’s Black population, which was reflected in the CPD’s discriminatory hiring policies. 

As in most other major cities, racial tensions in Cleveland erupted in the 60s, most notably in the oft-referenced Hough Uprising of 1966 and the Glenville Shootout of 1968. Less well-known is the 1970 Collinwood High School Riot, when 400 whites stormed the integrated school without police resistance. The mob broke 56 windows, destroyed furniture,and threatened the lives of 200 Black students inside. Increased police presence at the school thereafter did not prevent the stabbing of three black students and the fatal shooting of another by a white student in the fall of 1974.

In the 21st century, the CDP, like its cohorts across America, has shown itself to be a trigger-happy force. The murders of Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Tanisha Aderson, and, most recently, Desmond Franklin by on- and off-duty officers are only the most high-profile cases of CDP violence against Black people: between 2000 and 2014, CDP officers killed 32 suspects in 61 shootings, not all of them armed. As in other cities, CDP officers are rarely fired, and those that are are often rehired elsewhere. A Consent Decree from the DOJ in 2015 has done laughably little to change this pattern of behavior. 

As democratic socialists, we believe in a future without police or prisons. Contact info@dsacleveland.org to learn more about our work towards defunding police and reinvesting in our community.