REFLECTION: Moral leadership is essential in the police brutality quagmire

schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

It is a confusing, bittersweet time for my city. On May 26, Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson and the U.S. Justice Department announced a sweeping agreement to reform the Cleveland Police Department. That evening, our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Division basketball championship.

The next morning’s Cleveland Plain Dealer carried the oddest front page I have seen in 37 years of living here. Predictably, in this crazy-for-sports-town, the Cavs had the biggest headline: ON TO THE FINALS! Directly beneath, in smaller type, I read: DEAL SEEKS SWEEPING REFORMS. Although the Cavs had a bigger headline, the long-awaited settlement (also known as a consent decree) received the most ink by far, with pages of in-depth coverage.

Black Lives MatterIt all seemed pretty surreal coming just three days after police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter for his role in a 2012 over-the-top police chase involving more than 100 officers and 60 squad cars. Brelo was one of 13 police who fired a total of 137 bullets at a Chevy Malibu, killing unarmed occupants Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams who, for reasons unknown, fled police. Prosecutors said Brelo stepped onto the hood of the Malibu and fired 15 rounds straight through the windshield, even after other the officers stopped shooting. No other officers were charged, but five police supervisors were indicted for dereliction of duty. Their trial date has not yet been set.

After what is known around town as the “137 shots” incident, Mayor Jackson called for an immediate federal investigation. He had tried for years to hold the Cleveland police accountable for excessive use of force only to be reversed by arbitrators or obstructed by union contracts. While the consent decree doesn’t address either of these issues, it will require documentation each time an officer draws his weapon.

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