CLEVELAND—When the Cleveland Browns get ready to play on Sunday, many fans will be watching what happens prior to kick off when some Cleveland police officers may refuse to carry the American flag during the national anthem.
The police union president has requested cops stage their own boycott in response to about a dozen Browns’ players taking a knee during the national anthem during a pre-season game last month. They took the lead of Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sat during the anthem last year in protest of black men being killed by police.
“It’s hypocritical of the Browns management and ownership to want to have an Armed Forces, first-responder day, and have us involved in it when they allow their players to take a knee during the national anthem. That’s the very representation of what we stand for. That’s why we aren’t going to,” Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association said last week.
About one-third of the Cleveland police are black, but that hasn’t stopped Loomis from ripping black athletes who have called attention to questionable police shootings of African-Americans, calling the political views of sports and entertainment personalities “uneducated, inciting and false,” and saying 12-year-old Tamir Rice—killed by cops holding a toy gun—looked “menacing.”
“Tamir Rice is in the wrong,” Loomis said after the November 2014 Rice shooting. “He’s menacing. He’s 5-feet-7, 191 pound. He wasn’t that little kid you see in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.”
At the end of the 2014 season, when Browns black wide receiver Alex Hawkins wore a T-shirt that said, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III,” Loomis responded:
“We spend our hard-earned money to enjoy time with friends and family and distract ourselves from the day to day grind of life. WE DO NOT go to these games to deal with the personal and political messages from players.”
When current Browns’ running back Isaiah Crowell, also African-American, got blasted last summer for posting an illustration of a cop getting his throat slashed by a masked person, he apologized quickly. Loomis told TMZ that Crowell’s response was a “store-bought apology,” and said of Crowell:
“You’re a grown ass man, and you claim you were too emotional to know it was wrong? Think we’ll accept your apology? Kiss my ass.”
Loomis has also been a big backer of President Donald Trump, speaking at rallies during the campaign, attending the presidential inauguration, and holding court with the national news media on Trump’s greatness during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer. Loomis even had the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association endorse Trump, though the union had never endorsed a presidential candidate in its history.
Some think Loomis’ public displays are inflaming racial tensions in a city that is in the middle of some distress between the police department and the community. The U.S. Department of Justice has demanded Cleveland substantially reconfigure its police department because of officers’ pattern of “firing their guns at people who do not pose an immediate threat.”
These include the shooting death of 12-year-old Rice, 13 officers firing 137 bullets and killing two unarmed people in a car in 2012, and numerous other killings by police. Cleveland has paid $13.2 million since Rice’s death to settle 26 cases of police misconduct.
And despite a population loss, Cleveland almost doubled the number of homicides from 72 in 2010 to 136 in 2016. Most of these occurred in the mostly African-American east side neighborhoods, at a time when trust between black residents and the mostly white police department has eroded.
Added to all of this is the cop boycott of what is essentially “Black Lives Matter.”
“What people from outside Cleveland aren’t seeing is the very difficult line-in-the-sand he is throwing down as we try to mend the relationship and gain trust back within the black community,” says Lynn Hampton, a longtime Cleveland detective and president of Black Shield Police Association, which represents mostly black Cleveland police officers.
“We as police are not to judge who we protect and which ones we back,” Hampton says. “We guard left and right wing groups. We carry the flag to honor those who lost their lives in military service. But to make an issue out of this with a racial angle is just irresponsible to many of us. It’s going to make police work in the black community for rank-and-file officers more difficult. All because the union president has a Republican agenda he is pushing.”
Civil rights attorney James Hardiman, president of the NAACP’s Cleveland chapter, says Loomis’ action in this matter is “irresponsible for someone who is supposed to bridge the gap between police officers and the community.”
“Is [Loomis] trying to curry favor with the Trump community?” Hardiman asks. “I don’t like to speculate on that. But I do know this action is antagonizing the majority of people living in the city of Cleveland. He is driving a wedge in there. That’s not good policing.”
Loomis, a 24-year Cleveland police officer, did not respond to repeated requests from The Daily Beast to be interviewed for this story.
Cleveland Browns’ executive vice president Sashi Brown backed his players after their Aug. 31 protest: “These are guys that mean well. We really push our guys to be active and conscious about the communities they live in and what goes on around them that might be even larger than football.”
Loomis’ response was fairly typical, and he swung the blame-game for the flag-carrying imbroglio back on the team.
“The [police union members] are not protesting anything, we simply decided not to assist a Browns management that condones such disrespectful behavior from its employees, period.”