AFRICANGLOBE – Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Michael McGrath got more than questions Thursday night at a community meeting about last week’s controversial police shooting in which 137 shots were fired at an unarmed Black couple resulting in their death.
They received a dramatic reminder that many Black Clevelanders believe the police department is out to get them.
More than 150 people packed a church basement on East 105th Street to hear more details about how and why a car chase ended with 13 cleveland police officers firing 137 shots at the unarmed Black driver and passenger, both of whom died.
More than two dozen people, including family members of the victims, lined up before a microphone to speak. They had questions about police protocol and federal oversight, but complaints that Cleveland police officers are racist dominated the two-and-half-hour meeting.
One woman charged she was recently harassed by police and thrown into a patrol car for doing nothing more than writing down addresses of vacant properties she planned to send to City Hall.
Others broadly charged “the majority of the police are very racist.”
Another person asked what the city is doing to improve relations between residents and police.
Several described the shooting as murder.
Jackson and McGrath have been around long enough to understand the complicated tension between police and Black residents. They know it’s always present and fueled by the dissonance between the extreme perception by some that all cops are racist and the reality that vast majority are not. They know accusations of racism flare when controversial incidents become the subject of intense media attention and community scrutiny.
The issue surfaced most recently in 2010 when the community and media questioned police about how serial killer Anthony Sowell got away with killing 11 women. His murderous streak fed the charge that Cleveland police ignored his missing victims because they were troubled Black women.
Since then, the issue retreated. But 137 shots later, the issue of racism and the Cleveland police department is again fully charged.
“No one in the Black community believes . . . that if the occupants of that car were a White male and White female, 137 shots would have been fired into the car,” a man told the mayor and chief at the meeting.
Jackson and McGrath let people vent.
They pledged repeatedly to deliver the facts and discipline officers if warranted. They also emphasized the city’s efforts to train officers, build race relations and take actions against officers who do not respect all citizens. The audience scoffed at some of their points. Nonetheless, Jackson and his police officials remained cool.
City officials should continue to give people an outlet to speak out, even if that means they have to be lectured by people like Art McKoy, a community activists whose shrill attacks on all-things-police have made him more of a cartoon character than a respected bridge builder.
McKoy provided some levity at the meeting when he overstated his influence, suggesting to Jackson and officials that they will pay a political price if they are not mindful of McKoy’s message and fail to deal with bad police officers.
Jackson, in his tell-it-like-is style, responded calmly, “There is no fear on my part – the truth is what it is.”
He pledged to follow the facts.
“I got 37 years in, so I ain’t worried about a job and a paycheck,” he said, setting off some laughs. “Anybody scared of you – is in trouble.”
Two audience members also criticized Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association for its tough talk about criminals. At the end of the night, one man referred to CPPA president Jeffery Follmer’s recent comments about the shooting victims, calling his words “very disrespectful and reckless.”
Follmer referred to shooting victims, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, as “bad guys” and said the Cleveland police officers did a “great job.”
The man then called on Follmer – who was in the back of the room – to come forward and take questions instead of “doing it through the cameras.”
City officials said the meeting was not for such questioning.
I hope Follmer was listening to what the man was really saying.
Follmer only increases the “us vs. them” mentality with such comments, which, in turn, increases the danger for his members. He should save the tough talk for contract negotiations with city officials and learn to use the media to win the support of the residents, not just fellow officers.
His predecessor were not any better at messaging.
After the meeting, I stood near McGrath and watched him interact with the members of the audience. He’s took their questions, passed out cards and promised to return.
Cleveland Police Accused of Cold Blood Murder
The incident started on Nov. 29. Two people, Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, were killed at the conclusion of the chase in East Cleveland when 13 officers fired 137 bullets at the car.
Images, which come from a video camera facing east on St. Clair Avenue opposite the Cuyahoga County Justice Center, capture a Cleveland police car pulling up shortly after 10:30 p.m. An officer gets out of his car and walks toward another person.
The officer appears to be getting something out of the trunk of the police car. Within a minute the blue 1979 Chevrolet Malibu SS driven by Timothy Russell, 43, drives by at what appears to be a modest rate of speed.
The officer jumps and then runs around the car and hops into the driver’s side seat. The other person runs and the officer does a U-turn and begins to follow the Malibu.
Cleveland Police radio tapes show that the officer and others in the area claimed that a gun was fired out of window of the car.
The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office today released dispatch tapes from the Nov. 29 chase.
The two sheriff’s cars assisting the pursuit are warned at 10:41 p.m. by Cleveland police that a suspect is pointing a gun out of a car window. At 10:50 p.m., they’re told a Cleveland patrol car had been struck, and at 10:55 p.m. there are reports of shots fired at police.
It’s moments later that a deputy, identified as car No. 85, contacts another sheriff’s vehicle (No. 53) racing to the scene, telling him to slow down, saying, “It’s no big deal. Everything is handled.”
“All right, they got them in custody?” No. 53 responds.
“Give me a call on your phone,” No. 85 says.
The deputies left the scene at 11:25 p.m., saying Cleveland and East Cleveland police were handling the investigation.
By; Mark Naymik