There is outrage in Cleveland today after the manslaughter trial of a police officer ended in a not guilty verdict. A judge ruled that Officer Michael Brelo was justified when he stood on the hood of a car and shot through the windshield fifteen times, killing the unarmed occupants inside of the car.
On Nov. 12, 2012 police officers responded to a call about shots being fired from a Chevy Malibu in downtown Cleveland. More than 100 officers pursued the car, driven by Timothy Russell with his passenger, Malissa Williams, for over 20 miles. When the police finally cornered the couple they fired 137 rounds at the car, Brelo alone shot at the car 49 times. After the vehicle stopped many officers stopped firing, but Brelo decided he was going to take matters into his own hands and jumped on the hood of the car, firing 15 rounds at close range, killing Russell and Williams. According to the Justice Department, each of the victims was struck more than twenty times during the ordeal.
Prosecutors said that the original report of shots was not gunshots at all, instead the noise likely came from the car backfiring. Brelo was charged after prosecutors decided that jumping on the roof like an actor in an action movie crossed the line from justifiable to reckless; unfortunately the judge in Brelo’s bench trial disagreed.
Before issuing his not guilty verdict, Judge John P. O’Donnell, said that he would not let the recent cries of injustice from African-Americans across the country influence his verdict. He ruled that Brelo was justified because when he jumped on the car he still believed there was an active threat:
“[The shooting was] reasonable despite knowing now that there was no gun in the car, and he was mistaken about the gunshots. I reject the claim that 12 seconds after the shooting began, it was patently clear from the perspective of a reasonable police officer that the threat had been stopped.”
Brelo’s attorney, Patrick A. D’Angelo, said they were “elated” when the verdict was read and said that the “oppressive government” was to blame for the officer being charged with manslaughter. That’s right, the government is to blame for Brelo’s reckless actions; seems legit.
The verdict comes down less than a week after we learned that the Cleveland Police Department charged 12-year-old Tamir Rice with “aggravated menacing” and “inciting panic” a week after he was killed by officers. It also comes just months after the Department of Justice found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary force” within the department.
It is absolutely outrageous that once again a family is receiving no justice after the police murdered someone they love. All across the country we have watched police literally getting away with the murders of unarmed black men and then the media wonders why there is such a distrust of police among minorities. It is 2015 and a very large portion of America is ignoring systematic abuse and discrimination by the very people who are trusted to serve and protect us.
The police shot at these poor people more than 100 times before Brelo decided that the barrage of bullets coming from all directions wasn’t good enough and he jumped on the car and fired at them through the windshield. Now he gets to walk away from that? Seriously?
Alfredo Williams, Malissa Williams’ brother, expressed the sentiments that minorities feel all across the country, after the verdict was read, “All I know is that I don’t trust police no more. No police. None. I can’t recover from this. …This verdict isn’t real. This verdict is fake.”
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.