East Side Residents Gather in Lee-Harvard, Want Cleveland Politicians Out of Office

click to enlarge Lakiesha Smith: "Fist up, fight back." - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Lakiesha Smith: "Fist up, fight back."
"There's a recall petition for Frank Jackson?" Asked Mike Burton, an east sider who grew up Cleveland in the 60s and 70s. He was incredulous; he was thrilled.

"How do I get in on that?"

Burton and a group of about 20 other residents gathered at the Lee-Harvard Shopping Plaza (one of the Community Relations Board's "Hot Spots") to stage a march late Sunday afternoon in response to Michael Brelo's acquittal Saturday.

Several of the gathered marchers live in the St. Clair neighborhood and participated in a march there yesterday organized in part by Basheer Jones' Cleveland Renaissance Movement and the local chapter of Black on Black Crime. 

Though the Lee-Harvard march ultimately did not take place Sunday — rain in the forecast and the delay of a few key members who were traveling by bus convinced some of the group to venture downtown instead — residents mingled and vented about the perceived injustice of Brelo's acquittal and the spate of arrests Saturday night.

Their conversations offered a glimpse into the prevailing sentiments in Cleveland neighborhoods, at least on the east side. (For non-locals, Cleveland sets the nation's pace in terms of racial and economic segregation numbers, and the city's poor and African-American populations are concentrated to the east and southeast of downtown.)    

A few young women who marched Saturday said they'd like to participate in protests tonight at the Q, but wouldn't risk arrest. One, who said she planned to attend John Carroll next year on a full ride, didn't want jailtime to interfere with her high school graduation. The perception was that police officers would arrest demonstrators on sight, contrary to Chief Calvin Williams' claim that they would support peaceful protest.

Was the march Sunday, then, to show the community's disapproval over the Brelo verdict, I asked, .

"Yes," said Michael Burton, "We're outraged about the verdict—"

"And we oughtta be outraged," a woman chimed in. "Everyone oughtta be outraged."

"—but also to say that we're gonna vote these politicians out of office." Judges, councilmen, departmental chiefs, the Mayor, all of them. This Cleveland constituency simply feels abandoned by leadership.    

And as angry as residents are with police, they feel as if there's nothing they can do to reform the damaged system: "137 shots" is still the go-to trump card in conversations about police. Many black residents (certainly those I spoke with Sunday) strongly believe that that Cleveland police officers can still execute black residents at will and with impunity.

"You're talking about getting on the hood of a car," Burton said. "Not even the Incredible Hulk would do that. There's only one reason you go up there like [Brelo] did, and it's not because you fear for your life. It's to finish a job."

"We all knew it would be not guilty," Burton said. He admitted that for a moment in Judge John O'Donnell's preamble, he thought Brelo might be convicted on the lesser included charge of felonious assault. But in general, he thought the verdict was a "horse and pony show."

"It was an insult," Burton said. "A slap in the face. It was like he knew he was gonna be on CNN. I had to go take a walk after I was so mad."

Lakiesha Smith, who runs Cleveland's My Loud Radio, an internet station, said she hopes these protests are used as an opportunity for people to speak out for reform in Cleveland leadership. 

"We're not just angry," she said. "We're tired, moreso. We just want change and for people to come together."

Organizer Westley Carter concurred. He said that until "justice is as blind as lady justice is supposed to be," people of color will never be treated as equals in the courts or on the streets.  
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About The Author

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...
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