In response, Clevelanders took to the streets over the weekend. The protests were significant—with a reported 71 arrests—but fell short of the fury in Ferguson or Baltimore. While legal experts said prosecutors may have overreached in charging Brelo, one reason for the more tempered response was that the outcome of the trial was a forgone conclusion for many residents.
“Leading up to the verdict, there was already conversation about preventing rioting because the assumption was, in fact, that he was going to get off,” Jacqueline Gillon told the Times. “That’s troubled me from the beginning, that there was never a general belief that justice would be done. It’s another smack in the face for our humanity.”
That’s where the Justice Department settlement comes in. The department delivered its report into use of force by Cleveland cops in December, at another fragile time—just a little more than a week after a police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a park. Like the Justice probe into policing in Ferguson, it provided a painful and painstaking image of a department that had lost its hold on standards of conduct, strained its relationship with the community to a breaking point, and routinely violated citizens’ rights:
Our investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that CDP engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. That pattern manifested in a range of ways, including:
• The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;
• The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists;
• Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and
• The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.
The report (you can read the whole thing here) spanned the period from 2010 to 2013. Race has been a major factor in several high-profile Cleveland cases. Williams and Russell were black, while Brelo is white; Tamir Rice was black, while Officer Timothy Loehmann, who killed him, is white. The Justice Department noted, in passing, that “many African-Americans reported that they believe CDP officers are verbally and physically aggressive toward them because of their race.” As in Baltimore, another city with a broken relationship between black citizens and the police, Cleveland’s mayor and chief of police are both African Americans.
The Justice report also briefly addressed the deaths of Williams and Russell, although not that of Rice, but its general findings spoke to the way police may have botched both incidents.