More than 70 people were arrested in Cleveland in protests over the acquittal of Officer Michael Brelo in the shooting death of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams at the end of a 20 minute car chase that started over a cop mistaking backfire for a gunshot. Russell and Williams were shot at 137 times while in their car, but Brelo was the only officer charged for the killing. He was the one who jumped on the hood of Russell's car to fire at the windshield. The judge pointed to that as part of the reason he decided to acquit Brelo. That led to protests and what protesters say was a heavy handed response.
A day of mainly peaceful protests in Cleveland Saturday after the acquittal of police officer Michael Brelo in connection with a 2012 double fatal shooting began with protestors facing off with sheriff's deputies in riot gear outside the Justice Center.
It ended with more officers in riot gear herding people into alleyways and down thoroughfares—and 71 arrests.
Although nearly all of the protesting Saturday was peaceful, the images of police in riot gear making arrests was a stark departure from the images of last fall, when Cleveland police were lauded for their hands-off approach to protesters after the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and the release of the U.S. Justice Department's blistering report on the use-of-force by officers here.
Neither presidents nor protesters should have the power to deny anyone their due process. Those interested in a fair justice system should strive for more suspects to receive the kind of treatment in criminal trial officers often do, and for prosecutors to be held more accountable for their decisions—when they botch cases but more importantly for mistakes they make that lead the innocent to go to jail.
The anger over the decision is understandable, too, because it means Brelo will remain on the force, collecting a paycheck from Cleveland taxpayers. This should concern not just activists but police officers as well. It's a toxic marriage of criminal due process rights and the privilege of employment. It leads to situations like Cleveland, where the public is rightfully upset Brelo can keep his job, but can only express that effectively as a demand he be thrown to jail.
That's the fault of mainstream activists who don't do enough to point out the privileges granted police officers by law that contributes to a culture where police officers face little to no consequences for their actions, and the fault of police unions, who have spent decades unnecessarily and carelessly linking the right to a fair trial every officer, like every person, should enjoy, to the invented right to a police job. Can they expect anything other than more demands for mob justice? The situation remains easily solvable—activists mobilized over the issue of police brutality need to focus not only on the specific instances of police violence that draw public attention but to the police privileges that keep bad cops on the force long enough to be the antagonist in a specific instance of police violence that draws public attention.