CLEVELAND - NAACP leaders and several Ohio officials have reacted after a not guilty verdict was announced for officer Michael Brelo on Saturday morning.
Brelo had been charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for his actions in the November 29, 2012 chase and deadly shooting. Two suspects, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were killed after 13 officers fired 137 shots. Police had thought the suspects were shooting at them. No gun was found on the suspects.
NAACP leaders want Cleveland residents to remain calm, but know that change is needed between police and the community.
Senator Sandra Williams had this to say about the verdict:
"I am deeply disappointed by the not guilty verdict in the Brelo trial. This verdict reveals how broken the justice system is. If Officer Brelo will not be held responsible for the fatal shots that killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, then who will be? All of the officers involved should be terminated immediately.
I encouarge those who want their voices to be heard, continue to do so peacefully. While this is a blow to our work in rebuilding trust between the community and police, I remain steadfast in my dedication to ensure fairness and justice for all."
Cuyahoga County Councilman Anthony Hairston had this to add:
Once again, it appears that Our Lives Don't Matter. With the exoneration of Michael Brelo in the deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, minorities and the poor have not been heard and ultimately justice has not been served. The process in which Michael Brelo was found not guilty is as much in question as the verdict itself. Brelo was not tried by a jury of his peers as his freedom was determined by a member of the judiciary, who are viewed as inhibitors of justice by some in the minority and poor communities. While Brelo exercised his constitutional right by asking for a bench trial, it would appear to some that the deck was stacked against blind justice in this case.
However, this case is the first of several that are under investigation or coming to trial in lieu of the United States Department of Justice report and subsequent negotiations for change between the DOJ and the city of Cleveland. Many of the issues revolve around police procedure and training, but there is a more serious problem with relationships within the minority and poor neighborhoods of the city and the Cleveland Police Department. Everyone wants to feel safe. While the poor and people of color battle crime in their neighborhoods, who do they turn to when they cannot trust the ones who are sworn to serve and protect them?
So where do we go from here? I ask for you to make your voice heard, but do it peacefully and constructively. We as a people must come up with a well-planned, cohesive course of action that effects change. Marches and protests are good, but they are not enough. There must be a sustained effort to press for change under a unified front. We must demand fairness and justice from our police, judiciary and political leaders. Anything short of justice for all should never be tolerated.
Lastly, state representative Bill Patmon said this:
While I am troubled by the verdict from the trial, I except the rule of law rendered by Judge John P. O’Donnell with much trepidation.
Clevelanders will and shall express their constitutional right to peaceful protest, however I ask those who have come to our city that they come in peace and not in chaos and violence.
While the black community is suffering public pain, history shows us from Selma 50 years ago, that our pursuit for moral and civil justice comes with heavy hearts and a review of the Criminal Justice System can only be accomplished when diverse communities come together, have meaningful dialogue.
In working with Ohio’s Governor Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine, we have been proactive, in the state’s investigational process of Cleveland’s police department’s need for improved accountability and training and I welcome the Department of Justice review of the verdict to determine if any additional charges are warranted.
Read more on officer Brelo HERE**