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Discussing the Cleveland police consent decree: Families and communities building resilience

Northeast Ohio families of those killed at the hands of city officers joined the conversation.

CLEVELAND — A night of emotional words and calls for change by parents who have lost children in cases of police violence was hosted by the United Way of Cleveland and the NAACP regarding the city's consent decree.

It is a series hosted online. The theme of Thursday’s conversation: Families and communities building resilience.

Family members who lost the lives of loved ones at the hands of Cleveland police officers are challenging the city's consent decree, asking for more than just a settlement. They know first-hand what it’s like to have a life taken away by an officer, and say the justice they were given is not the justice they deserved.

"It's a struggle for me every day," Samaria Rice, who's 12-year-old son Tamir was shot and killed by police in 2014, said.

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"There's a settlement that was made," Bernadette Rolen added. "That's fine, but the officers are still walking out there. They're free."

Rolen's son, Daniel Ficker, was shot and killed in Parma by a Cleveland cop in 2007. Rolen fought five years for a settlement of more than $2 million.

"A settlement isn't justice. That’s not justice," she lamented. "Justice would be a police officer paying for the crimes they committed."

The consent decree is an agreement made six years ago between the city of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice, requiring the division of police to make policy changes that better serve the community.

"We need accountability," Rice said. "My therapy is to make sure another mother doesn't have to go through this."

Families not only want to see a change in how officers are disciplined, but also how officers respond to certain instances.

"Let them know that they're not above the law," Brenda Bickerstaff, whose brother Craig was killed in 2002, declared. "This is when we are going to start getting change."

"[We need a] special unit that deals with domestic problems," Rice said.

While there have been changes, not everyone agrees on how to make real progress. In March, Cleveland Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard fired four officers and suspended another following investigations into different incidents, but those moves were criticized by the police union.

"It’s a crying shame to see what the city of Cleveland is going through, Det. Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, said last week after the officers were let go. "Homicides are up, violent crimes are up while we are afraid to do our jobs, while supervisors are afraid to make their calls and do their job."

3News reached out to City Hall, but officials declined to comment. In the meantime, parents like Bernadette Rolen remain optimistic.

"We do know change is possible," she said Wednesday.

Dr. Victoria Winbush of Cleveland State University also said an outspoken community is one of the most important ways to bring change. The city and the local U.S. Attorney's office are also working to fill two spots for the Cleveland Police Commission (CPC), which oversees policing practices and reform.

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