May 16, 2023 - Politics

Teen tandem pushing for Shaker Heights police reform

A young man speaks outdoors with a microphone, as people hold signs saying "Shaker Citizens for Fair Ticketing"

Ethan Khorana, 17, speaks at the Shaker Citizens for Fair Ticketing launch event. Photo: Courtesy of Sam Klein

Teenage activists are leading the charge for police reform in Shaker Heights.

Driving the news: Ethan Khorana, 17, and Sam Klein, 19, both alums of local political campaigns and racial justice movements, are coordinating an effort — Shaker Citizens for Fair Ticketing — to get a charter amendment on the November ballot to improve police transparency and accountability.

Details: The amendment would do three things:

  • Increase the presence of a crisis intervention team, which would replace armed officers with nonviolent community administrators for mental health calls and traffic enforcement.
  • Establish a civilian oversight board, inspired by the one created in Cleveland.
  • Create a digital public records repository.

Why it matters: Shaker police, much like counterparts in Bratenahl and University Circle, disproportionately write traffic tickets to Black motorists.

  • Public records obtained by Shaker Citizens for Fair Ticketing found that more than 70% of tickets in 2022 went to Black drivers.

The other side: In a newsletter and video to residents on April 12, Shaker Heights Mayor David Weiss zoomed in on the stats, saying only 16% of tickets written in 2022 went to Shaker residents overall, and 8% to Black Shaker residents.

  • "I have grave concerns regarding practicality, cost, legality and, most of all, the public safety implications of these proposals," Weiss wrote.

Yes, but: The mayor's calculation means that out of tickets given to residents, half were given to Black residents; only 36% of Shaker's population is Black.

The big picture: Klein told Axios that the ticketing and use of force stats were just the launchpad for the citizen-led effort, which aims to broadly improve public safety and equity in a historically diverse community.

  • "The city outright denies that there's a bias in policing," he said. "They conveniently don't provide a racial breakdown of the 84% [of Shaker nonresidents]."
  • "Our response is basically: If they were going to do something about this, they would have already done it."

What's next: Khorana told Axios that volunteers are canvassing Shaker daily and are well on their way to collecting the required 664 signatures to get the amendment on the ballot.

  • "We're actually trying to create a new system and culture, but in a commonsense way, expanding on what we already have," Khorana said.

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