Congregations Map Campaign For Police Reform

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind of Trinity Episcopal Church, co-chair of Greater Cleveland Congregations, speaks in favor of Ohio Medicaid expansion at a GCC meeting in January 2013. (Thomas Ondrey / The Plain Dealer)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A broad-based coalition of religious groups is taking action to play a leading role in reform of Cuyahoga County’s criminal justice system.

Greater Cleveland Congregations, a nonpartisan coalition representing more than 40 congregations and 20,000 people, will begin a series of meetings on Tuesday to develop and press its recommendations on police reform.

The call to action represents “an unprecedented opportunity for Greater Cleveland Congregations to have an influence on the direction of the criminal justice system in Cleveland for years to come,” organizers said.

The meetings are being held on a tighter schedule than originally was planned, to ensure that recommendations can be made while the city and U.S. Department of Justice negotiate a consent decree to cure systemic deficiencies found by the DOJ in the police department.

“This is a way of making sure our voices are heard,” said co-chair Rabbi Joshua Caruso of the Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple.

Formed 3-1/2 years ago to “build power for social justice,” GCC includes some of Northeast Ohio’s most prominent faith communities. It has worked for school reform, to expand Medicaid in Ohio and to reduce gun violence.

Nearly 1,000 people from the group gathered three years ago in a meeting to support criminal justice reform, working with the governor’s office and General Assembly.

The first meeting in its current push, open to the public, is a teach-in at 7 p.m.Tuesday, at Antioch Baptist Church, 8869 Cedar Ave.

The meeting will present the findings of the U.S. Justice Department about excessive use of force by the Cleveland Police Department, organizers said, and also will discuss “why the report does not address a significant issue that GCC must address: The racial disparities that are evident in Cleveland Police stops, arrests, and use of force.”

An open delegate assembly at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, 20401 Hilliard Blvd. in Rocky River, will approve a GCC platform of recommendations.

A general assembly on Feb. 3, expected to draw well over 1,000, will present the GCC position on police reforms to U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, Department of Justice officials and the city of Cleveland. The assembly will be at 7 p.m. at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, 8712 Quincy Ave.