On Saturday, a Cleveland judge ruled that Officer Michael Brelo was not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault in the 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams following a 22-mile car chase. The judge found that although Brelo did fire many shots at Russell and Williams, so did other officers. Thus, he could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo’s bullets — and no others — killed Williams and Russell.
The judge also found Brelo not guilty of the charge of felonious assault. He ruled that Brelo’s decision to use force was “constitutionally reasonable.” Although no gun was found in the vehicle of the deceased, the officer’s “perceptions were objectively reasonable,” the judge concluded.
It was feared that, in the aftermath of this controversial decision, the inevitable protests might turn into riots. So far, however, they have not.
Why not? Probably because the Cleveland police have declined to tolerate lawlessness. Paula Bolyard of PJ Media reports:
Cleveland police were taking no chances in the wake of the acquittal of police officer Michael Brelo, going to great lengths to ensure that Saturday afternoon’s peaceful protests didn’t evolve into violent riots like Baltimore and Ferguson have experienced in recent months.
In addition to having the National Guard on standby, police followed protesters through the streets and arrested anyone who acted violently or refused to obey police orders to disperse. A total of 71 people were arrested. . . .
The first sign of violence occurred when protesters hurled an object at a man who was heading into a bar, striking him on the head. The police, who were following along, promptly arrested the thrower and two protesters who interfered with the arrest.
Next, four protesters attacked patrons of another bar. All four were arrested. Two more were arrested for using pepper spray on the patrons of yet another bar.
Eventually, as more violence loomed, the police ordered the crowd to disperse. When the protesters did not comply, dozens were arrested.
As Police Chief Calvin Williams (an African-American) explained, “when people are given a command to disperse from what started off as a lawful protest and degenerated into random acts of violence against people just standing on the street, we have to move in and enforce our laws.” Makes sense to me.
Thanks to Chief Williams’ approach, no businesses were looted or destroyed on Saturday. Nor were there any reports of injuries that day.
Today, Sunday, about a dozen protesters blocked a downtown intersection just as the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA playoff game tipped off. Police allowed the demonstration to proceed, which it did for about an hour and a half. There were no reports of violence.
As Baltimore’s protests over the death of Freddie Gray spiraled into violence, I wrote:
Protesters should, within reason, have space to protest. They should never have space to destroy. . . .
The absence of a show of force once it becomes clear that things are going to take a violent turn makes rioting almost inevitable. And a statement like the mayor’s that destruction will be tolerated is even worse; it’s an invitation to violence.
Chief Williams seems to understand this and to have decided that the mistakes in Baltimore will not be repeated in Cleveland. Protesters have been given the space to protest, but the police have come down hard, and promptly, on violence.
Cleveland is hardly out of the woods. It’s possible, for example, that outsiders will flock to the city in the hope of generating serious clashes with the police.
But the odds that we will witness another Baltimore have been reduced considerably by the vigilance of the Cleveland police force and its willingness to nip violence in the bud.