Community Relations' Peacekeeper Meetings are for "Hand-Picked" Individuals Only. Media Not Welcome.

This morning, I was politely asked to leave what I expected to be public meeting at the Michael J. Zone Recreation Center.

The meeting was intended, I gathered, to help  train community 'peacekeepers' for protests next week in the event they turn violent after a verdict in the Michael Brelo trial is announced.

"We will not accept a riot in Cleveland," community relations director Blaine Griffin said at a public safety meeting Wednesday evening. The city is trying to cover all bases to prevent Baltimore-style unrest, and the preparations read (more than anything else) like no one expects Brelo to be convicted.     

Scene had been told that meetings would be happening this morning at Cudell, Zone, Burton, George and Glenville rec centers, one in each of the five Cleveland Police Districts.

We had some secondhand inkling that the "counterintelligence" operations discussed at previous meetings — "monitoring agitators" on Facebook, "embedding in protests" and reporting back to "point people," etc. — weren't entirely the province of "peacekeepers," in our understanding of them.

They seemed a lot more like the province of "agents," frankly, and quite a bit closer to COINTELPRO rhetoric than we were comfortable with. Never mind that the city was recruiting respected leaders in the faith-based communities, the Guardian Angels, and former gang members to lend the peacekeepers some street cred. 

We thought we'd see what these training sessions were all about for ourselves. 

No such luck, though. Representatives from St. Colman's, La Sagrada Familia and the second district community relations committee were in attendance at Zone when a community relations rep ascertained my identity — I wasn't trying to hide it — and told me the proceedings were private.

I've spoken with Scene managing editor Eric Sandy, who attended Wednesday evening's public safety meeting in Fairfax, and he confirmed that Community Relations Director Blaine Griffin — he of the incendiary tweets — encouraged everyone to attend the peacekeeping sessions. Eric's impression was that all peacekeeping meetings would be open to the public. 

"The Fairfax meeting was very much a rallying cry for involvement on all fronts," Eric said, "and the peacekeeping training was just one way that people could get involved." 

But I just spoke with a city spokesman who disagreed.

"These are not open to to the public," said Dan Williams, Cleveland's media relations czar, in a brief phone call. "These are 'train the trainer' meetings and today was their first one. These people were hand-picked, and then they're going to go out and train others." 

Today may have been the first official training, but there was definitely a meeting at Zone yesterday as well, during which "peacekeeping" operations were addressed. It's unclear who was in attendance. 

Williams said that on Monday, he and Blaine Griffin intend to host a session for media to go over what the peacekeepers have learned. He said that he had hoped to host a similar session today.   

Bob Shores, a volunteer and a member of the 2nd District's Community Relations Committee was eager to register his disapproval at Zone. 

"This is bullshit," he told me outside the rec center's multi-purpose room, after I'd been told I wasn't welcome. "This whole process is a clusterfuck, and you can quote me on that."

Shores said he had a friend who was planning to come, but she wasn't on "the list."   

"If they don't let her in, I'm walking out," he said. "It'll be my silent protest."    

Perhaps the community relations board is worried about counter-counterintelligence? There's probably nothing sinister in strategically hand-picking community members to participate in peacekeeping ops, but we have no choice but to be suspicious when we're barred from from a meeting that impinges directly upon the public.  

What's to hide? 

(And, just for kicks, here's the Ohio Revised Code's entry on Public Meetings). 
Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.