The Browns' commitment to "Be the Solution" continues behind the scenes in Berea, even during the throes of the regular season.
Last week, members of the Browns' social justice committee, other players, coaches and front office members met with a number of Cleveland's top officials to discuss a variety of topics involving police reform and accountability. The group heard from Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin D. Williams, Councilman Matt Zone and Public Safety Director Kerrie Howard during an hour-long video call that provided plenty of insight into the significant changes CPD has enacted in the years since the Tamir Rice tragedy.
It was an important hour of dialogue for the players, who, at the encouragement of coach Kevin Stefanski, have thrust themselves "into the arena" to make a real impact, however they can, in the fight against racial injustice.
"Life has changed since then, and it has changed rather quickly with the injustice that is going on in America today and how we are trying to make a difference here and how we are trying to start something that could lead to a domino effect that can go all throughout Ohio and be kind of the example for the other towns, cities and states," Browns DE Myles Garrett said. "That is really what I wanted to hear about. He was talking about all the good things that they are doing, which they are doing a lot of good things and they are setting a better example than most will give them credit for. I appreciate him listening to the people who have made an effort to contact them and tell them what they need to improve."
The players, coaches and front office members — a group that included Stefanski and EVP of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry — used the meeting to learn about how the Cleveland Police Department operates and discussed how certain policies and strategies could be improved to create a better relationship with the community. De-escalation tactics, legislation and hiring processes, among other points of discussion, were all reviewed in the Zoom call.
"It was great to just get their perspective on things and show how they're moving the needle in a positive direction," Larry Ogunjobi said. "Sometimes, in these situations, it takes certain things to happen for something else to happen, but just given the fact of the statistics that are trending in the right direction are really important. They are trying to do things the right way and go in the right direction, so I feel like they're a good model for other cities and police forces to look to with their de-escalation tactics and things of that nature, just trying to push the envelope and change the narrative."
During the call, Williams listed the five areas of police reform that have changed to improve policing under the city's consent decree agreement, which was signed between the city and the Department of Justice in 2015. The department's goal has centered on becoming the best in the country in appropriate use of force, search and seizure, crisis intervention, accountability and community engagement.
When the players asked how they can best help, Williams offered a number of options, including players and coaches visiting police academies to support training and encourage graduates, encouraging more citizens to become police officers, increasing their engagement with police officers through ride-a-longs and using their platform to advocate for standardized training on the county and state level. In recent years, the Browns have participated in ride-alongs with police officers, engaged in summits that brought citizens and city officials together for important dialogue and donated their time and money to local causes. The Browns and Browns players have also made additional contributions to City of Cleveland recreation centers to help create more opportunities for youth to learn and play in their own community. In May 2019, seven Browns players visited a local courthouse and jail as part of a Listen and Learn tour to get a closer look at how the justice system operates.
In the near future, Browns players hope to meet with state leaders to advocate for the state-wide standardization of some of the practices that have helped CPD make major strides over the past five years. They'll also be using their respective platforms to highlight this kind of progress in hopes of inspiring other big-city departments to do the same.
The Browns hope their meeting is just the beginning of many discussions with people in power and in positions of creating positive change. Players have stressed the importance of taking action to improve racial inequality and not simply releasing statements.
They want their actions to truly have an effect on the community, and their meetings with Chief Williams and the City Council Members of Cleveland are a big step in accomplishing that goal.
"I think they've done a good job of is making change in their department and looking inwards and figuring out what they can do to make themselves better," long snapper Charley Hughlett said. "I left the conversation feeling really good about the Cleveland Police Department, and it's kind of a shame that it takes an event to create change, but that is something I do think they've gone a good job of is making change in their department and looking inwards and figuring out what they can do to make themselves better. It would be great if we could take that model they've built in Cleveland and take it across the state and across the country."