The signs of renewal are everywhere in this city, from the bustling downtown to the anticipation of the national spotlight during next year’s Republican National Convention. Even the Cleveland Cavaliers are marching toward the NBA finals.
So civic leaders are determined to make sure that Cleveland’s upswing is not interrupted by riots.
“It’s the comeback city,” said the Rev. R.A. Vernon, whose Word Church boasts the city’s largest congregation. “And it can’t afford to be burnt up.”
As early as Friday, a Cuyahoga County judge is expected to deliver a verdict in the case of Michael Brelo, a Cleveland police officer who took part in a massive police chase in 2012 and helped pump 137 bullets into the car of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, black Cleveland-area residents who died in the shooting and were unarmed.
Now, less than a month after neighborhoods in Baltimore burned and less than a year after Ferguson, Mo., exploded, Cleveland officials fear an acquittal in the Brelo case could touch off the same kind of violence.
So local politicians and clergy members, civic activists and even sports stars are working overtime to provide outlets for people’s frustrations.
“Those of us vested in Cleveland’s success should not follow the pattern and practices of those outside instigators who looted, destroyed businesses and [committed] other crimes that ruined inner-city neighborhoods in Ferguson and Baltimore,” said David Malik, a civil rights lawyer.
Community leaders “are feverishly working together to eliminate police misconduct in Cleveland,” he said, adding, “We are much better positioned than Ferguson or Baltimore.”
The Brelo shooting is known locally as “137 shots” — which, Clevelanders note, is nearly as many bullets as were fired in the law enforcement ambush that killed robbers Bonnie and Clyde in 1934 in Louisiana.
The Cleveland shooting prompted small protests at the time but has found new national attention in recent months as unrest has rocked other cities after cases of alleged police brutality.