After a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio was acquitted on Saturday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man and woman in 2012, protests against racism and police brutality spread throughout the city as activists called for justice.
Police in riot gear arrested multiple protesters marching peacefully through the streets of Cleveland, where the shooting took place. Activists chanted, “No justice, no peace” outside of the courthouse where the officer was cleared of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault.
The trial had been closely watched as a growing civil rights movement swept the country. The officer, Michael Brelo, and 10 other officers fired 137 shots at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams after a 20-minute car chase, with Brelo climbing onto the hood of Russell’s car and delivering 15 shots at close range.
Brelo later claimed he was in fear for his life, believing Russell and Williams had a weapon.
Neither of them did.
On social media, images circulated of Russell’s windshield, riddled with bullet holes, as an example of the kind of brutality that Cleveland’s majority-black residents face from the city’s police department.
Williams’ brother, Alfredo, reacted to the verdict on Saturday with pained outrage. “This is straight murder,” he said in an interview, displaying a poster with an image of his sister’s face. “I can’t get her back.”
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U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge, who represents Ohio’s 111th district, on Saturday called the acquittal a “stunning setback” for justice. “The verdict is another chilling reminder of the broken relationship between the Cleveland Police Department and the community it serves,” Fudge said in a statement.
The Cleveland Police Department was the subject of a two-year investigation by the Justice Department. In that report, released last November, the DOJ found that the force engaged in a “pattern or practice of unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” and violated the civil rights of local residents. The killing of Russell and Williams was one of the cases cited in the landmark report.
Cleveland is also the site of another high-profile police killing—that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead by a white officer on November 22 as he played in a park near his home.
The protests over Brelo’s acquittal coincided with a separate march calling for justice for Rice. Both actions were peaceful, even as police broke up marches in the city’s warehouse district and a highway shutdown.
At least 71 protesters were reportedly arrested overnight, including a crime reporter, who detailed his experience in an op-ed for cleveland.com.
“Soon I was joined by another group of protesters,” the reporter, Kris Wernowsky, wrote in his account. “A couple of white guys, but mostly young black men whose only crime seemed to be failing to get out of the street when police asked them to move.”
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