Members of the city administration presided over Fairfax Community Center gym last night, reminding the community that “the city belongs to everyone” and that, no matter the headlines, police are here to protect the residents.
The "headlines," of course, refer to the trifecta of major decisions ahead of us: the verdict in the Michael Brelo trial and the results of investigations into both Tamir Rice's death
and Tanisha Anderson's death. The city has been bracing for an as-yet-unidenfiable aftermath, and leaders have made clear that they've been taking notes on what happened in Baltimore.
"This a defining moment in our city’s history," Jackson said last night. He asked residents to step up and join the forces of change and reform that his administration is hoping to usher in as this year progresses.
The city is working with two main strategies now and in the weeks ahead: a neighborhood focus that is putting outreach volunteers at important locations ahead of any verdict (i.e., according to the city, the Lee-Harvard Shopping Center) and a citywide focus that will pay attention to where and when a "critical mass" may develop.
With an insistence on "high visibility," the city is identifying and "marshaling" leaders who will be out in the streets to help coordinate and pacify unrest. These people will be wearing bright green lanyards with the "One Cleveland" insignia on them.
"What we dont want is groups that may come from out of town...that have a different intent than the people that want to peacefully protest," community relations director Blaine Griffin said. "We will not accept a riot in Cleveland."
Even outside of City Hall and the five police districts, concern is strong: The Cleveland Public Library has an emergency plan in place, for instance, and at least 10 churches around the city have agreed to “open their doors immediately after any verdict is read.”
Throughout the meeting — and amid other outreach efforts
over the past month or so — it became very clear that city leaders are bracing for a profound and emotional response
to the upcoming decisions. Ahead of the news, though, residents are questioning the mayor as to why he's
not revealing a drop of emotion. "Be angry, mayor," one man shouted out. "Represent us!"
Repeatedly, Jackson referred to "urban legend" and "perception" as the core problems of dissent within Cleveland. He said that, too often, residents have called him and his administration out for doing nothing or for talking about a sense of reform that has yet to take place. The mayor was asked specifically by members of the audience to point to substantial reform, but he would only fall back on two responses: 1. The Department of Justice consent decree negotiations are ongoing, so we can't talk about that (though he promised they are "substantial, significant...and it does change a lot of the way we do business in the city of Cleveland") and 2. He wants to reform the whole criminal justice system, because targeting discipline toward just one police officer, for instance, will invariably lead to an appeals process that puts that officer right back in the same position he was in originally.
His main message was for young people — and specifically Cleveland's frustrated young black population — to take action if they feel justice is not being served in this city.
"What you’ll find, young man," he said, addressing a westside resident, "is you pay your dues everywhere. If it is only a conversation, only a position to take… fine, fine. But you pay your dues by what you do
. What we’re asking people is to engage with us, become part of what we’re attempting to do in Cleveland. It’s a call to action. I’m asking you to be citizens of the city of Cleveland today."
The message fell alternately on resistant and supportive ears as the meeting went on. Both city leaders and the residents themselves stressed that they're seeking accountability from the other side.
Judge John O'Donnell is expected to rule in the Brelo case sometime next week, though no official date or timeframe has been set.