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Out & About in Cleveland

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Civil Rights from Selma to Cleveland

On Wednesday night we went to the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Center on Lee Road in Shaker Heights to hear our U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, whose jurisdiction consists of 40 counties in Ohio, address the issue of "Civil Rights from Selma to Cleveland" an event that was sponsored by the Shaker Heights Democratic Club, the Tri-City Democratic Club, the Northeast Ohio Young Black Democrats, the Cleveland Heights Democratic Club, and the Stonewall Democratic Club. The turnout for this gathering was impressive and included such public officials as Ohio State Rep. Janine Boyd, County Councilwoman Chantele Brown, Judge Francine Goldberg, Judge Stuart Friedman, Shaker Heights Councilwoman Nancy Moore, Warrensville Heights Councilman Stanley Anderson, Shaker Heights School Board Member Ruben Harris, and Judge Dave Matia. We were especially happy to encounter Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken who told us that he considered Ms. Margaret W. Wong to be a "tremendous supporter of our community."

At the beginning of his presentation, Mr. Dettelbach told us that in March, 2015 he was part of a delegation of 25 U.S. Attorneys that traveled to Selma, Alabama to take part in the 50th Anniversary Bridge Crossing Jubilee. He met Congressman John Lewis who was a young civil rights activist back in 1965 when he was badly beaten by the police. He said that if someone had told him back in 1965 that he would be a U.S. Congressman some day who would be attending a commemoration of the Selma civil rights march where a African American U.S. President would speak...he would have told that person that he/she was seriously crazy!

Mr. Dettelbach said that it is "our duty to remember people who secured the rights that we have today" and that he regards the civil rights movement as the "great unfinished business of our nation." He then went on to talk about what he considered to be the two major civil rights issues of the present time which were the curtailment of voting rights by cutting back on the time period for people to vote and the relationship between the community and law enforcement. He went on to talk about what has been happening in Cleveland regarding the consent decree and how his office in involved in the process of instigating police reform. He went on to say that he believed that the major components of this should be better training, a better system of accountability, improved police/community relations, and more resources to achieve these goals. He make it clear though that reform would have to come from within the police department itself and that there would not be a federal takeover of it.

He also talked about such problems as the heroin epidemic and gun violence. In response to a question about human trafficking, he touched on the topic of immigration when he pointed out that a human trafficking victim who is an illegal immigrant is particularly vulnerable and sometimes might opt to endure the degradation rather than go to the authorities and risk being deported. After the meeting, we talked to him privately about such situations and we were very impressed by the compassion that he displayed during the course of our conversation.

Mr. Dettelbach was very open to questions from the attendees and spent a lot of time answering them although he couldn't directly talk about political issues like immigration reform and the Citizens United decision. We really liked it when he said that he was a native born Clevelander and was really proud about the revitalization of downtown, the restructuring of public square, obtaining the RNC and Lebron coming back. No less important, however, was the Cleveland Police Dept. and anyone who believes that you can cut funds and it will make no difference is only kidding themselves.

We also liked it when he said that anyone who says that they have no time to vote is dishonoring the sacrifices of Congressman Lewis and others like him who made serious personal sacrifices in the early years of the civil rights movement.

We are proud to have a U.S. Attorney like Mr. Dettelbach who, during his tenure, has made a special effort to hire women, people of color and the LGBT and to help them fulfill their leadership potential. He believes, as we do, that it is a "fallacy" to think that in order to do this one must choose between quality and diversity. Mr. Dettelbach said that one might have to conduct a search to find qualified people but they are out there and the caliber of his staff proves it.

We were very happy when, at the end of the program, Mr. Dettelbach received an award from the Northeast Ohio Young Black Democrats.

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