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Angry Activists in Cleveland: Justice for Blacks in America Will Never Happen

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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.

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.

 

By Richard B. Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA 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.

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.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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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Activism

After Wood Street Clearance, Homeless People Stay

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move. 

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Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.
Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

On the morning of November 8, members of both Oakland’s Encampment Management Team, Public Works, and Police Department came to an area encompassing about 1/5 of a mile from Wood Street and Grand Avenue to Wood Street and 26th Street with the stated goal of clearing the location of homeless people. But after the attempted clearance, homeless people remained in the area.

“The objective was to move as many people as possible,” wrote Oakland Communications Director Karen Boyd in an e-mail. “But that could not be accomplished without the full cooperation of the community.”

“You can’t push us back any further than this,” said homeless resident Jessie Parker, a 63-year-old lifelong Oaklander who came to live on Wood Street after being shot in the leg. The injury prevented him from being able to do the physical movement required for the construction and electrical work he had done in the past. On November 4, the city put up pink notices informing him that starting in four days they would force him to vacate the area he’s lived in for about nine years, but he, like dozens of others living in vehicles, tents or makeshift homes along Wood Street, didn’t leave.

Parker’s statement references the fact that Wood Street is one of the westernmost streets in West Oakland. A little further west from where Parker lives is land owned by Caltrans under the 880 overpass where still more homeless people live, as well as a 1.5 acre plot of land belonging to a company called Gamechanger LLC. To the east are businesses and residential areas.

After about two years in delays, Gamechanger agreed to lease its land to the city for $1 a year and the city opened a Safe RV Parking site on July 7 on the company’s land through the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency.

In the Safe RV Parking site, residents who own RVs and trailers can legally live in them and receive services. It’s unclear how long this service will last, as the lease between GameChanger and the city can expire by November of next year. That same lease laid out plans to allow 75 RVs or trailers space to park, but while walking through the site on November 10, this writer counted 29 RVs while half of the site sat vacant. The site is not available for many residents, like Parker, who don’t have an RV or a trailer.

“I never received an offer to move in,” said Parker, who lives in a truck. “It’s for RVs only.”

The site opening has put other residents at risk of displacement who can’t or don’t want to access it. Since Oakland’s City Council unanimously passed its Encampment Management Policy in October of last year, despite protests and critical public comments during five hours of a meeting, city policy now states those living within 25 feet of such sites can face clearance.

Although their policy now allows it, the city had not attempted to move nor even encouraged people who are living near the Safe RV Parking site to leave the area until the November 8 operation. But recent communications from Justin Tombolesi, who is the constituent liaison for District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, have led advocates and homeless people to believe the company is now pressuring the city to force people to leave the area. In a text message to a homeless resident who lives near Wood Street, Tombolesi wrote “Gamechanger is suing the city because people are too close to the RV site.”

Gamechanger denies suing or pressuring the city. When asked if the company was suing or threatening to sue the city, the company’s lawyer, Pat Smith of Smith LLP, responded in an email, writing “Not at all — no thought of suing the city. The city is solely in charge of the site and ownership has no involvement or concern over how the city is handling things.”

In an e-mail, Boyd wrote that “No filings or actions to terminate the lease have been served upon the city,” but that the city has “spoken with legal counsel representing GameChanger’s lot regarding the city’s plans to create compliance.”

In another text message to the same resident, Tombolesi also claimed the city would allow residents living on Wood Street to move to a vacant portion of land off the street and just north of the Safe RV Parking site during the November 8 closure operation. No residents have moved into that location and residents, as well advocates who were on site that day, claim no one was invited to do so. Boyd said the city offered nine spaces in the city’s Community Cabins, and five spaces in a rapid rehousing program called The Holland. One resident accepted a space in the Community Cabins, which is a program that offers small, unheated shelter in shed-like spaces made by the Tuff Shed company.

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move.

Although the closure operation was originally slated to occur over three days between Monday November 8 and Wednesday November 10, no one from the city came back after the first day.

“The ability to proceed Monday impacted the entire operation,” wrote Boyd in an e-mail, “and activities for the following days were cancelled.”

Although homeless residents did not leave Wood Street, Oakland’s Police Department’s Public Information Officer Kim Armstead said the department did tow six vehicles for long expired registration on November 6 and 7 in the area in preparation for the closure.

According to Armstead, the department avoided towing vehicles that served as people’s homes, as the department, following the cities’ direction, has “agreed not to tow vehicles where there is clear evidence they are being used as shelter.” Armstead also said on November 8, OPD supported the city operation with two officers, one sergeant, and six police service techs who provided traffic control and security for city workers.

One homeless resident named Evangeline said the towing of her and her husband’s vehicle has made it difficult to go grocery shopping and to visit her mother, who just had a heart attack. The couple can’t afford to pay the fees to get the car back, so it will remain in the tow yard.

“We’re really stuck,” she said.

Although residents like Parker avoided being moved from Wood Street, it’s unclear when or if the city will come back to move them. According to Parker, a member of the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency has been working to secure some form of permanent housing for him, and he’s hopeful that the person will be successful.

“I’m a little older now so my peak interest is getting back into housing,” said Parker. “If I get into housing, I’m sure I won’t go back to this. I can’t take these harsh elements no more.”

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Activism

African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) helps support 25th annual turkey drive in East Oakland

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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The African American Sports & Entertainment Group came out to support the 25th annual Community Giving Foundation Turkey drive at Verdese Carter Park in East Oakland.

Hosted by founder and organizer Marlon McWilson, the turkey drive that started in 1997 has now donated over 35,000 Turkey’s through McWilson’s foundation. In attendance were Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland PAL, California Assembly Member Mia Bonta (AD-18) along with husband and Attorney General for the State of California Rob Bonta. Assembly Member Bonta also congratulated the AASEG on their recent unanimous 8-0 approval to enter negotiations with the City of Oakland on an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) to purchase the city’s half interest of the coliseum land, and looks forward to working with the team.

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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Bay Area

Get Booster Shot, Celebrate Thanksgiving Holiday Safely, State Officials Say

Officials are encouraging people who took both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago to get their boosters now. People who took the one-shot Johnson & Johnson primary dose at least two months ago, should also schedule their booster shot.

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According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the booster shots are being administered under an “emergency use authorization.”
According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the booster shots are being administered under an “emergency use authorization.”

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

Golden State public health officials are recommending that Californians take COVID-19 booster shots to prevent a resurgence of the disease and to celebrate the holidays safely with their loved ones.

“It’s not too late to get it,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Department, referring to the COVID-19 booster shot. He was speaking at a vaccine clinic in Los Angeles County last week.

“Get that added protection for the Thanksgiving gatherings you may attend,” he said.

Last week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine boosters for all adults in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed with an endorsement of the booster vaccine, recommending it for people over age 50, and anyone 18 and older who is at higher risk.

The CDC loosened the language for all other adults, saying anyone over age 18 “may” take the shot.

California officials say the booster shots are plenty and available throughout the state.

“If you think you will benefit from getting a booster shot, I encourage you,” said Ghaly. “Supplies are available. There are many sites across the state – thousands in fact.”

On Saturday, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup completed a separate review of the federal government’s approval process for the booster shots and also recommended that “individuals 18 or older who have completed their primary vaccination series,” take the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters.

California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington state came together last year and created the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. The group, made up of scientists, medical professionals and public health experts, is charged with reviewing COVID-19 vaccine safety.

Over the last two weeks, COVID-19 infections across the United States have increased at a rate of nearly 33%, according to the CDC.

Officials are encouraging people who took both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago to get their boosters now. People who took the one-shot Johnson & Johnson primary dose at least two months ago, should also schedule their booster shot.

“COVID-19 boosters are available to all Californians 18 [and over]! Walk-in clinics are open statewide with no appointment necessary – like this mobile clinic in Avenal. Find a clinic or pharmacy near you and get yours today,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office chimed in on Twitter.

Newsom has pushed hard for the vaccine booster since he received his last month.

“Great news for the rest of the country. The holidays are here — make sure to keep your immunity up and protect yourself and your loved ones. Get your booster,” Newsom tweeted on November 18.

According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the booster shots are being administered under an “emergency use authorization.”

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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