The recent bench verdict acquitting Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo of all charges in the shooting deaths of unarmed Malissa Williams and unarmed Timothy Russell – both black Americans – is another stain on the pages of American history and the pretense of equal justice under the law in these United States. And while we collectively stagger in disbelief, we apprehensively await the result of the six month investigation into the shooting of the unarmed twelve year old Tamir Rice – a black American – by police officer Timothy Loehmann. What is going on in Cleveland? What is going on in America?
The sad story of Cleveland has no real beginning as it is clear that police brutality and racist law enforcement have been such a part of life in that city that it was necessary for the United States Department of Justice to intervene and establish court-enforced protocols on the police department. Given that Cleveland is far from alone among American cities in featuring police brutality and racist law enforcement, one can only imagine how bad it must be in Cleveland for the United States government to come in to protect the basic human rights and civil rights of the black citizens in that city.
Actually, we do not have to wonder, we just have to look at the recent tragic cases in that city to get an idea of what life must be like for a black citizen in Cleveland, Ohio. In the matter of police officer Michael Brelo, he was accused of firing 49 shots into a car in which unarmed and black Malissa Williams and unarmed and black Timothy Russell were sitting. That would be 49 shots out of a total of over 130 shots fired by the Cleveland police.
Officer Brelo at some point stood on the hood of the Williams-Russell car and fired fifteen shots into the windshield. Ms. Williams and Mr. Russell were each shot twenty times. It bears repeating that neither of them was armed. It is also important note that this spasm of police violence began when the Williams-Russell car seems to have backfired while passing a police station. This resulted in a bizarre action-movie drenched car chase.
We begin to understand how this horror could have metastasized into a double murder by cop when we learn that Ms. Williams and Mr. Russell were mentally ill, homeless and drug addicts. Indeed, when the gun smoke cleared a crack pipe was found in the death car.
It would appear that if you are a black, mentally ill, homeless, unarmed drug addict with a malfunctioning car in the city of Cleveland, you could be committing a capital offense if you drive erratically. And in committing that capital offense, you could be subject to immediate execution without a trial.
It is also painfully clear that if you are twelve years old and black and are carrying a toy pellet gun, you can be subject to immediate extermination without question or pause or cause. That is the basic fact pattern in the sad death of Tamir Rice, a black pre-teen fooling around with a pellet gun who was shot dead by Cleveland Police Officer Loehmann who not only did not read Tamir his rights, he did not even give him the opportunity to put down the toy weapon.
It has now taken the Cleveland criminal justice apparatus a half a year to determine whether or not a crime might have been committed in the street slaughter of Tamir Rice. It took Officer Loehmann two seconds to decide that Tamir Rice had to die. Yet it is taking over a half a year to determine if there might be a possibility that shooting a black twelve year old boy with a toy is a crime.
The sad subtext to these tales from the Cleveland crypt is that Officer Loehmann and Officer Brelo are white. We know from the recent indictments in Baltimore that black police officers also engage in racist police practices. And we also know that as far as the victims and their families are concerned, their grief knows no color. And the victims are just as dead.
The Cleveland story is a sad story. The Cleveland story is part of the greater American sad story.