Here's What's Happening in Cleveland After Weekend of Unrest

May 26th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Tensions flared in Cleveland this past weekend when police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter. In November 2012, Brelo, following a car chase, killed two unarmed, Black people when he climbed on the hood of their vehicle and fired 15 shots through the windshield. By the court's logic, Brelo's 15 shots were only a fraction of the 137 total shots he and other officers fired into the car and could not directly be linked to the deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, the passengers sitting inside.

The New York Times notes that following Saturday's verdict, 71 people were arrested amid protests.

The Brelo verdict was shortly, coincidentally, followed by a Department of Justice settlement with Cleveland over police abuses.

On Tuesday, Cleveland announced that it will take steps to rein in abusive police behavior after federal prosecutors documented patterns of misconduct in a December 2014 report. The deal is the second reached between the city and federal prosecutors to rein in its police force, using a strict set of new standards, a first for any major American city, the Guardian notes

"The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that every American benefits from a police force that protects and serves all members of the community," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a release. "The agreement we have reached with the City of Cleveland...looks to address serious concerns, rebuild trust, and maintain the highest standards of professionalism and integrity."

Cleveland has become a focal point in a raging national debate over the use of police force after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found officers there to have repeatedly misused non-lethal weapons like stun guns, beat unarmed people, and fired their guns at people unnecessarily, all incidents that often went unreported and uninvestigated. The investigation began before Cleveland police shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black child playing with a toy gun in a park.

How does this settlement change police practices?

Under the new settlement, firearm use will have new rules including a ban on warning shots, more comprehensive data collection will be mandated in instances where officers use force, officers will get more training, and civilian monitors will be stationed in police departments.

"This is a transformative time with the City of Cleveland Division of Police, but most important with the citizens of Cleveland," the city's mayor, Frank Jackson, said Tuesday. "Today marks a new way of policing in the City of Cleveland, one built on a strong foundation of systematic change." 

"At the end, we will have community policing as part of our DNA," he said.

Cleveland's mayor is being criticized for failing to live up to campaign promises regarding police violence.

Tuesday's settlement between the city and DOJ is the second addressing similar sets of concern over Cleveland's police force. The first settlement, reached 11 years ago, was a campaign issue for Jackson, who was elected in 2005 with a promise to reform policing. Critics say he failed to do so and even filed recall petition paperwork earlier this month, aimed at removing Jackson from office. According to the Guardian, Jackson made no mention of 2004's settlement in his appearance Tuesday. 

Reforms outlined in the new settlement span categories including force and techniques, bias-free policing principles, equipment and training, the creation of a mental health crisis committee, and overall accountability, according to a release

Tensions flared in Cleveland earlier this year when 12-year-old Rice was shot last November, and protesters were swept up in the fervor of Ferguson, Mo.-related demonstrations.

"For the past days and months the nation has looked toward Cleveland as we have grappled with difficult issues involving police-community relations," said Ohio's Northern District U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach. "Today, the nation should look this city [sic] for an example of what true partnership and hard work can accomplish – a transformational blueprint for reform that can be a national model for any police department ready to escort a great city to the forefront of the 21st Century." 

The Cleveland settlement is the result of a type of DOJ investigation that has become a common method of addressing police complaints during President Obama's tenure. Three similar settlements––in New Orleans, Newark, New Jersey, and Albuquerque––were reached in 2014, and two investigations are ongoing in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.