Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Keith Fangman got a clear message May 5 from African-American protesters who heckled him throughout his speech at City Hall.
Fangman, accompanied by more than 100 police officers, was making his speech to city council. The FOP was there to protest what it called Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey's inconsistent policies governing the return of police officers to street duty after they have been involved in shootings.
At issue is Shirey's recent overturning of the police chief's decision to return Officer Michael B. Miller, who is black, and Officer Brent McCurley, who is white, to street duty. The officers were involved in the March 19 shooting death of Michael Carpenter, who the officers said used his car as a weapon, dragging Miller about 15 feet.
Fangman is used to the names such as "murderer" that he and other officers, blacks included, were called during the May 5 FOP protest. But, he said, this protest brought a new insult that he would not forget. It came from the audience in response to a reference Fangman made to Officer Dan Pope, who was white, and Spec. Ron Jeter, who was black -- both shot and killed at point-blank range by a black domestic violence suspect Dec. 5, 1997.
Race politics being played by the city manager, Fangman said, are causing officers to hesitate in the field. It is possible, he said, that fear of reprisals from the manager made Pope and Jeter hesitate instead of acting according to their training, Fangman told council.
"If they would have walked in with their guns drawn, they would still be alive today," he said.
Fangman said he would never forget the response a protester called from the audience: "They got what they deserved."
Council members did little to curtail insults that flew from spectators at the police while Councilman Tyrone Yates did berate Fangman for criticizing Shirey for smirking.
Has it occurred to the FOP that members of city council have little interest in police training or what impact it has on police officers who follow the rules but don't always know what the rules are because the rules keep changing?
Fangman said the FOP had received some words of support from four of nine council members, Phil Heimlich, Jeanette Cissell, Charles Winburn and Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
That support, however, was not immediately apparent May 5
In accordance with a discussion between Fangman and Qualls before the council meeting, the police officers left council chambers after the FOP's presentation. That decision Qualls and Fangman said was made to prevent protests from becoming confrontation.
Yet, speaker after speaker, the African-American protesters then used the FOP's departure as an example of officers' immaturity and refusal to listen.
Councilman Todd Portune also made a speech in which he slammed the FOP before Qualls finally told council and the audience that she had spoken with the FOP in advance and decided it would be best for them to leave after its presentation.
Why did Qualls wait through all of the speakers and Portune's speech before mentioning her before-meeting discussions with the FOP?
"Because I wanted to give them all a chance to finish ...," she said.
"When Mr. Portune gave his lengthy speech, it became a matter of stating clearly that it was not a 'walk out' (as Portune portrayed it)," Qualls said.
Why, in your opinion, does the same type of arguing, protesting and disrespectful behavior keep occurring in council chambers over the same racially motivated arguments?
Qualls said that it was simply a matter of reactions to an incident.
"It's to be expected when an individual ends up dead that people will have some intense emotions and challenge and question why it happened," she said.
But it does not always have to be a negative effect, she said.
As a result of protests that followed the Lorenzo Collins shooting in 1997, the city created the Citizens Police Review Panel -- the second such committee to be established to review complaints about police conduct.
"That significant change of policy emerged out of it and will go a long way to face the questions and challenges," she said.
Though the officers involved in the Collins shooting were cleared of any wrongdoing by seven separate investigations, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice, City Manager Shirey put one of the officers on desk duty for about a year.
Fangman said that Shirey is sending inconsistent messages by stating publicly that his decision to put Miller and McCurley on desk duty is not punishment. The misrepresentation, he said, is clear in Shirey's own statements. In 1997, during the aftermath of the Collins case, Shirey said desk duty for Officer Doug Depodesta was punishment, and that Depodesta clearly viewed it as punishment, Fangman told council.
"This city manager has fired police officers for their dishonesty," Fangman said. "Our city manager should be held to the same high standard, too."
Fangman said he was tired of "racial politics" coming from the city manager. Ultimately, the city manager's actions are destroying morale for Cincinnati police officers who are now second guessing themselves, Fangman said.
What about the name-calling and allegations being made by African-American protesters?
Fangman said those allegations are inconsistent with the facts and also contradicted by the fact that black officers were involved in many of the controversial incidents, including the most recent.
The Sentinels Police Association -- an organization, not a union, for black officers -- has sided with the city manager. That organization seeks to promote divisiveness and is causing distress for black officers, Fangman said.
During the May 5 protest, African-American protesters followed black officers outside, yelling at them, calling them "Uncle Toms" and accusing them of selling out.
As for Officer Miller, the black officer currently on desk duty awaiting his fate in the aftermath of the Carpenter shooting, "He is outraged at the conduct of the Sentinel leadership," Fangman said.
Does Fangman or the FOP have any information as to whether the investigations being concluded will clear Miller and McCurley?
Fangman said he did not yet have any investigative results. But to date, Shirey and others have refused to acknowledge the extent of Miller's injuries, which put Miller in bed for two weeks after being dragged by the car Carpenter was driving, Fangman said.
How concerned is the FOP with anti-FOP statements that have been made by city officials like Councilman Todd Portune?
That situation will take care of itself, Fangman said.
"He's made his bed and now he's going to have to lay in it. Any council member who plays up to the radical fringe element of society has to realize that the majority of law-abiding white and black voters don't agree with his constant attacks on the men and women protecting this city."