CLEVELAND- What can be done to calm often hostile relations between the police and some minority communities? That was the subject of a public forum by a task force created by Ohio Governor John Kasich.
It was the first of four meetings that will be held across the state where Ohioans can voice their concerns and offer suggestions on how to improve police and community relations.
"I'm not gonna sugarcoat things like most people in here. We know what it is; this is straight-out racism to its fullest," said one speaker.
Northeast Ohioans spoke out Tuesday evening, often out of frustration, about the way they feel many people in minority communities are treated by police.
Several speakers brought up the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot last November by a Cleveland police officer who thought the air soft pistol he was waving at a west side rec center was real.
"Growing up poor, but growing up white, I know that my experience was different from the experience of Tamir, as he and his family interact in the community and also our interactions with the police are different," said Democratic State Representative Nickie Antonio.
The forum was held at the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University. Residents offered their opinions and suggestions to a diverse task force, appointed by Governor Kasich as a way to improve relationships between police and the citizens they serve across the state.
Former state senator Nina Turner is co-chair of the panel. "My son, who I respect, has lived both sides. He is currently a police officer, so I understand it from the pressures that are placed on law enforcement officers; then I also understand it from the perspective of being a mother, who sees a system that is biased," said Turner.
"We need to make sure that we let the police know that we owe them our thanks," said Steve Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
The forum included two expert speakers, including Dettelbach. He discussed a recent U.S. Department of Justice report that found Cleveland police have a pattern of using excessive force.
"In order for any community to thrive, we also have to acknowledge as you are doing here, that we can't sweep problems under the rug," Dettelbach said.
Some people told personal stories; others asked questions.
"What type of psychological and emotional support is provided for police officers?" asked another speaker.
"The testing process, pre-employment should include a very thorough background investigation," responded Michael Navarre, current police chief of the Oregon police department in Lucas County.
"Somewhere along the line, we have lost that connection that a police officer is there to be a part of the community and to protect the community," said another speaker.
There will be three more forums around the state: Central State University, University of Toledo and University of Cincinnati.
The panel is expected to send the governor a report by April 30.