Nine local activists attended a Cleveland City Council public safety committee meeting Wednesday morning. They hoped to speak during public comment about the city's response to the DOJ report
and issues of transparency and accountability in the wake of the Tamir RIce shooting.
When it became clear that there wouldn't be scheduled time for them to speak, Joshua Stephens, a local musician and activist from Ward 15, stood up and demanded to be heard. At that time, council members were discussing a domestic violence grant with police and county personnel. Matt Zone, the committee chair, was not pleased with the disruption.
Zone sparred with Stephens briefly, both of them speaking over each other from opposite sides of the room. Zone pleaded with Stephens and the #OrganizeCle crowd to "have respect for the institution" of council. Stephens argued that there was no venue for them to speak out. He and some of the other activists had attended Monday night's council meeting, but there had been no public comment period then either.
("Most of them were in a hurry to get to the OSU game," Stephens told Scene
after Wednesday's meeting).
Zone said he didn't want to have the protesters removed, "because that would be un-American," but informed them that their outbursts were un-American as well.
Later, Zone approached the #OrganizeCle crowd and told them privately that they'd have five or ten minutes to speak when the meeting was adjourned. He said he'd allow one representative to make comments on their behalf.
Four of them approached the conference table at the meeting's conclusion and talked with the Public Safety Committee, who remained to hear their comments. Their central question was whether or not City Council had the authority and ability to audit the Division of Police's hiring and firing practices.
Zone was largely evasive, thanking the protesters for their interest in city affairs, and promising that he'd continue to create venues for them to speak. When he mentioned the the city's listening tours, the #OrganizeCle quartet uniformly derided them. They said the communities in greatest need hadn't even received word — two of them canvassed areas around E. 55th Tuesday and claimed that not one person had been aware of them.
Just for the record, the final two listening tour dates are as follows:
- Wednesday 1/14 (Tonight), 6-8 p.m., at Elizabeth Baptist Church, 6114 Francis Ave. in Ward 5, represented by Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland.
- Tuesday, 1/20, 6-8 p.m., at Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, 1161 East 105th St. in Ward 9, represented by Councilman Kevin Conwell.
Councilman Mike Polensek chimed in to let the protesters know that most council members shared their frustrations. The meeting had concluded, in fact, with Polensek's urging of Safety Director Michael McGrath to apprise council members exactly what police documents they were entitled to see and request, in order to be transparent with their constituents.
"In my career on council, I've been pro-police." Polensek said, "but my belief and total support has been shaken. I'm looking for major changes in 2015. I can't speak for the Mayor, but if you start polling the members of this body, you'll see that we support the DOJ report. I support the DOJ report."
When approached afterwards, Joshua Stephens said that the chance to speak to council was "better than nothing."
"I feel like some of the council members are just trying to placate us," he said. "Some of them are actually taking us seriously."