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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

City Braces for Brelo Verdict

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:16 AM

Images of riots in Baltimore are how the rest of the country is viewing that city’s reaction to Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of police officers. Here in Cleveland, leaders are vocally concerned about the impending verdict in Officer Michael Brelo’s trial, wherein he faces charges of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the deadly Nov. 29, 2012, police chase and shootout.

There’s fear that, despite very little visible outcry when the shootout actually took place, the social climate in a city where the police department has now been called out for it pattern of excessive use of force is more emotionally charged than ever. And that goes for both sides: This week, Councilman Jeff Johnson reminded his colleagues that members and directors of the police union are similarly capable of stoking ire, were Brelo to be pronounced guilty.

From Mayor Frank Jackson:

As I am sure you are aware, it is likely that the trial of Officer Michael Brelo will conclude within the next few days. Other high-profile cases are still pending, as well as continued negotiations with the Department of Justice.

Clearly, these are very complex situations that affect people at every level in our community. We are focused on how best to create a sense of safety, trust and confidence in our community, while empowering our police to enforce the law and maintain order.

We are planning for a variety of contingencies and are being very proactive in both communication and outreach. We are partnering with community and faith-based leaders, corporate entities and individuals to foster an environment that informs audiences about the changes taking place, while recognizing the importance of listening and engaging with all parties involved. We all have a shared responsibility for maintaining peace and order moving forward.

One of the more bizarre aspects of the preparations arrived on social media.

Last weekend, the city began using the hashtag #ourcle on Twitter to engage residents and get them talking about “what you love most about Cleveland” and “police/community relations.” Worthy topics all, but the hashtag quickly turned into a digital watercooler for residents to air grievances over how little has been done and how PR stunts like #ourcle essentially accomplish nothing in the way of real reform.

On Monday night, as Baltimore burned, the new Twitter account for the city’s Community Relations Board, @CRBCleveland, began getting weird. Two tweets in particular angered many in the area. They’ve since been deleted, but the tone suggested violence.

“Should Cleveland be burned down like #bmore #Ferguson #hough #central ?”

“Have heart! Don't hide in the shadows! Should #ourcle be burned down? Speak up.”

The bizarre message sent shockwaves of question marks across Twitter, which is sort of par for the course when a public agency tries its hand at digital engagement. A City Hall press release confirmed, anyway, that @CRBCleveland was indeed a real, city-sanctioned account. The city has not responded to requests for additional behind-the-scenes information about the messages.

"We apologize for recent inappropriate #ourcle tweets sent from this account. They were not in the spirit of what we intended to do," the Community Relations Board tweeted Tuesday night.

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