Point of View Columns

The Sad Story of Cleveland

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.

Point of View Columns

A Matter of Life and Death

It should come as no surprise that there is not much new in this New Year. After all stubbornness is as much a part of the human condition as occasional genius, and neither feature is observant of the calendar.

Which brings us to the societal conflagration in America, most recently occasioned by the tragedies in Cleveland, Ferguson and Staten Island, but the embers of this particular inferno have been smoldering for centuries. The absolute need and desire for enforcement of the law in communities of all color has been in regular conflict with the underlying history of government sanctioned brutality against people of color in this country.

A thorough understanding reveals serious stains and scars on the glorious image that has misinformed and misguided us for centuries. From the Black Codes of the 1600’s to the March of Tears and the Dred Scott decision and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1800’s to genocide in Tulsa and Rosewood and lynching sanctioned by legal inaction in the first half of the 20th century, there are real reasons why people of color are wary of law enforcement even as its necessity is recognized.

That is why it is logical, reasonable and rational for Americans of all colors to be outraged over the legal whitewashing of the lethal encounters with the police that occurred after the police homicides in Ferguson and Staten Island. There is no reason but racism that makes it plausible for every person of color to fear that any encounter with the police, no matter how innocuous, can have fatal results.

Nevertheless, there is a one ton gorilla standing in the crowds that protest racially tinged homicides that are accompanied by a badge. The outrage and disgust and demands for institutional and cultural changes in this country arise when there is a lethal outcome from an encounter between white police officers and victims of color.

The one ton gorilla stands by quietly as the marches and rallies and “die-ins” proliferate. The one ton gorilla can afford to be quiet because as long as it stays quiet it is seemingly invisible to the protestors who vociferously call for an end to the violation of human rights. The one ton gorilla is quiet because this simian giant represents the ongoing death of black Americans by guns in the hands of black Americans.

The one ton gorilla is ignored for reasons that defy logic or reality. More black people die at the hands of black people than by reason of racist law enforcement. If police were killing black people at the rate that black people kill black people there would be justifiable cries of “genocide”. Yet, a black person killing black people does not evoke a similar response.

In the sad aftermath of another sad murder, some candles are lit, there might be a march or two, but the outrage and disgust are strikingly absent. We are told that unemployment, absence of fathers, poor education somehow justifies the extinguishing of the life of another human being.

We also find that there is a glorification of a culture of violence and killing that is found in too many videos, songs and movies. And the promoters of that culture are idolized and imitated, leading to…………more violence and killing. And as the cycle spins the one ton gorilla sits silently and invisible.

There is no sense in arguing which death is worse….death by badge or death by thug. The victim is dead, the family is bereft and we are all lessened by the needless loss of life.

There is also no sense in ignoring the one ton gorilla.