Michael Brelo listens to the judge read his verdict May 23, in Cleveland. Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects during a 137-shot barrage of gunfire was acquitted in a case that helped prompt the U.S. Department of Justice determine the city police department had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.
County Common Pleas Court Judge John O’Donnell points to mannequins marked with the gunshot wounds that the two motorists suffered; May 23 in Cleveland. Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects during a 137-shot barrage of gunfire was acquitted in a case that helped prompt the U.S. Department of Justice determine the city police department had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.
Demonstrators pause at the entrance to the Cuyahoga County Justice Center as police stand guard during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, May 23, in Cleveland. Brelo was acquitted in a case involving a 137-shot barrage of gunfire that helped prompt the U.S. Department of Justice determine the city police department had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.
By Richard B. Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad, From The Final Call
(FinalCall.com) – Protests were largely peaceful, calls for calm were plentiful and pleas for the city of Cleveland to be a model for dealing with deadly Black-police encounters and tense police-community relations were prominent.
But besides those voices was also a seething anger, outrage not quenched by promises of reform as some felt the time to give America’s systems a chance is over.
Judge John P. O’Donnell’s acquittal of Officer Michael Brelo on involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault charges in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in November 2012, was the final straw, these activists said.
The United States will never give justice to Black people and, the activists bitterly added, this is not a country where Blacks can live with Whites in peace.
Their voices may not reflect a majority of opinions but do reflect a strong sentiment and growing disgust as Blacks lose their lives to police officers and nothing is done about it.
Officer Brelo stood on the hood of the car driven by Mr. Russell and fired 15 shots into the windshield. His shots punctuated a 137-shot police barrage into the car carrying the two Black, unarmed suspects. There were so many deadly shots, the judge ruled that it was impossible to say Officer Brelo’s shots took the lives of the victims. Thirteen officers fired into the car.
“The blood of these brothers and sisters are crying out and we are seeing how people are wasting their blood and they’re acting like we have no value. I believe in my heart we are at a point of civil war and revolution and the young generation that’s coming up is going to take the reins on that,” said Mariah Crenshaw, a Cleveland activist.
Cleveland also awaits the outcome of investigations into the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, gunned down in seconds by an officer who pulled into the park where the Black boy was playing with a toy gun.
“My fear is that Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, just told us Tamir Rice will not receive justice either,” Ms. Crenshaw said.
John Boyd, another Cleveland activist, feels all of the cops involved in the 137-bullet barrage should have been indicted for murder. The couple had committed no crime. Their car backfired and cops thought shots had been fired, officials said. The officers were dead wrong. A high speed chase followed and the bullet-riddled bodies and car were the result. Officer Brelo fired his automatic weapon 49 times and at least the last 15 shots came after he reloaded and climbed onto the hood of the car. Other officers had already ceased firing.
Better training, so-called reforms and body cameras won’t solve police killings of Blacks despite what pundits, politicians and hopeful others say, declared the activists. They blame institutional racism and weak Black leadership in the city.
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, who represents Cleveland and is an established leader, seemed fed up herself. “The decision of Judge John P. O’Donnell to acquit Officer Michael Brelo is a stunning setback on the road to justice for Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams and the people of Cleveland. The verdict is another chilling reminder of a broken relationship between the Cleveland Police Department and the community it serves. Today we have been told—yet again—our lives have no value,” the House Democrat said in a statement.
“By any measure, the firing of more than a hundred rounds of ammunition by the Cleveland Police Department toward two unarmed citizens was extreme, excessive, and unnecessary. The same can be said about Officer Brelo’s individual actions. My heart goes out to the families of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, and to the entire city of Cleveland,” the congresswoman added.
A history of police violence?
Still the words of Mayor Frank Johnson, Police Chief Calvin Williams and even basketball star LeBron James of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers for channeling pain into positive activity and restraint rang hollow with activists and those fed up with loss of Black lives and no accountability.Rep. Fudge pointed out a scathing U.S. Department of Justice review of the Cleveland Police Dept. released last December and vowed to work with city officials for change.
An Associated Press report May 25 said the Justice Dept. had forged a deal with the Cleveland Police Dept., which has long had problems. That anonymous report came on Memorial Day, two days after the judge’s decision.
The city reached a settlement with the federal government over a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations by the police department, a senior federal law enforcement official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the settlement ahead of the official announcement, expected later in the week, and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The 2012 high-speed chase prompted an 18-month Justice Department investigation. The DOJ report required the city to work with community leaders and other officials to devise a plan to reform the police department.
The settlement must be approved by a judge and overseen by an independent monitor. The specifics of the settlement, first reported by The New York Times, were not available May 25.
The Justice Department’s report spared no one in the police chain of command. The worst examples of excessive force involved patrol officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects.
The Justice Department said officers were poorly trained and some didn’t know how to implement use-of-force policies. The report also said officers are ill-equipped.
The agency said supervisors encouraged some of the bad behavior and often did little to investigate it. Some told the Justice Department that they often wrote their reports to make an officer look as good as possible, the federal agency said. The department found that only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.
The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities intervened this time by way of a consent decree.
Two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: Tamir Rice the boy holding a pellet gun fatally shot by a rookie patrolman and Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill woman in distress who died after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her.
Last year, the Justice Dept. report described the police department as poorly trained and reckless.
Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine called the killings of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams a “systemic failure” on the part of the police.
Failure of Black elected officials?
“The majority of the city is 60-65 percent Blacks. We have a Black mayor, a majority Black city council, and our political representatives are a part of the problem and not the solution,” John Boyd charged.
Black politicians are too busy trying to appease Whites and show they’re not giving preferential treatment to Blacks, rather than leading and rebuild the fabric of the Black community, he said.
Mr. Boyd added, Black politicians act like it’s okay for Whites to advocate for their people but not for Blacks to advocate for Blacks. He disagrees with that.
“Separating from America is definitely on the board as an option and some people are talking about it, because it’s never going to change,” Mr. Boyd said.
The Brelo acquittal sends a clear message that the system of White supremacy is intact, the activists said.
“We’re the ones who seem to think that things have changed,” another Black veteran activist said.
The verdict should be a confirmation, not a surprise or even a question, he added..
“We’re at a point now where America, White supremacy, Europeans have let it be known that African people are an overstocked item that has expired a long time ago and there is no use,” he said.
Judge O’Donnell declared he would not sacrifice Mr. Brelo to an angry public if the evidence proved otherwise. But not only should the officer have been convicted, he should have been fired, Cleveland activists told The Final Call.
She criticized Judge O’Donnell’s analysis and conclusion that Officer Brelo acted appropriately and attributing the chaos to Mr. Russell.
It’s a travesty to justice, the law and the Black community, she said.
“If I was taking a bar exam and I started off my analysis that way, I would fail that bar exam. The chaos started from the Cleveland Police Department when they had 62 patrol cars chasing this one vehicle and Officer Brelo being probably the fifth car in that chase, knowing he was breaking procedure in what created the chaos,” Ms. Crenshaw, a former law student said.
If Officer Brelo hadn’t violated policy and contributed to the chaos, the couple wouldn’t have been put in the position to have been killed, so he is not immune to accountability for their deaths, she said.
The prosecutor has also left no leeway to prosecute any other officers involved in the chase and shooting, said Ms. Crenshaw. “If you couldn’t prove that Brelo’s bullets killed Timothy and Malissa, you sure can’t prove that the other 12 contributed to their deaths,” she said.
Shortly after the news broke she said she turned away from television, sickened by news coverage and the Cleveland administration.
“I’m angry because the media and the administration have pushed on us peaceful protest and there is no such thing, because a peaceful protest means you want to see me and not hear me and a protest means you will hear my voice,” she said.
She’s outdone with Cleveland, its leadership and absence of justice.
“I’m not inciting violence but do I think that freeways should be shut down and businesses should be shut down and economics should be shut down? Yes. I most certainly do because that’s a protest. Do I think that voices should be raised for the firing of all 13 police officers and they are no longer able to work in this community? Yes. I think those voices should be raised and raised high,” Ms. Crenshaw said.
Adding insult to injury, nine White Cleveland cops filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the city, claiming they are racially discriminated against when they shoot Blacks.
The officers (8 white and one Hispanic) alleged they were denied overtime pay and subject to boring menial tasks while placed on administrative leave and then restricted duty for firing their weapons during the encounter which took the lives of Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams.
“It does not surprise me that they would have the temerity to do something like that. They always seem to want to try to take advantage of the laws that prevent and preclude them from their mistreatment of us and try to flip it back on us and call it reverse discrimination,” said Mr. Boyd.
Racism is “ alive and well in Cleveland, Ohio and it’s endemic in the police force and it always has been. There’s nothing but a bunch of racist White cops in the city of Cleveland and unfortunately, the African American cops, the only difference in my estimation is that White cops think white first and then cops,” Mr. Boyd added.
“Black cops have been maneuvered into a position of feeling some sense of false loyalty to being a cop in a brotherhood and they think blue first and cop second. They never see Black,” he said.
Mr. Boyd believes the officers could win their ludicrous discrimination lawsuit because people tend to forget American values are for Whites—not for Blacks.
“There was no way that cracker judge was going to find that other murderous cracker guilty of killing those two Black people. That was not going to happen,” he said.
Mr. Boyd refused to attend protests after the verdict where media cameras delighted in showing people holding hands with red, black and green flags while singing Kumbaya.
“I’m not going to do it and preach peace because that is not what my experience has been,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many.
“I’ve said that I would not be disappointed if they burned this damn town down to the ground, because it’s just a damned shame that they have no value and no respect for Black lives,” Mr. Boyd said.