Sam Allard / Scene
Community Members gathered at the Zelma George Community Center in Woodland Hills
Community members from Cleveland's fourth police district gathered at the Zelma George Community Center Monday morning to discuss the city's response to expected protests whenever the verdict is announced in the Michael Brelo trial.
"Daily briefings" have taken place at neighborhood rec centers for several days
, but Monday's was the first to which media were invited to attend, (though only to observe the tail end — agenda items iv and v below).
Representatives from the the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Cleveland Division of Police, CMSD, and the city of Cleveland (including councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland) were in attendance.
In the segment of the briefing we observed, no tactical specifics were discussed beyond the fact that police are making an effort to "get to know people," "touching base with business owners," and paying special attention to areas where people congregate (Lee-Harvard, Lee-Miles, Buckeye Plaza).
If this represents a deviation from standard police practices, that's a problem.
Former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Reggie Rucker
, a member of the city's community relations board and president of the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, provided some operational updates.
He assured volunteers that "his guys" would be doing the "violence interrupting" on the ground, should violence break out. The expectation for the community was merely to pass information along when they hear it.
"We'll be handling what we call the street," Rucker told Scene
after the meeting concluded. "The Peacemakers Alliance has a long history of doing street outreach. In the past five years, it's been structured and formalized. This work requires a certain skill set that only these guys have."
Rucker said it would be wrong to characterize his group's work as a recent development. They've been liaising and collaborating with the Community Relations Board for years. As for the Brelo verdict, Rucker says the recent meetings have been helpful, but that doesn't mean he's not nervous.
"I'm always nervous," he said. "The best law enforcement minds in the country will tell you that you can't stop violence. But you can be prepared for it."
The best preparations, according to Rucker: Communication and men who are willing to step up. (He suggested in the meeting that confrontations between white police officers and black men, fueled by mutual fear and ignorance of each other's background, was a significant cause of violence).
A CMHA rep mentioned, in the "questions" portion of the agenda, that though she's attended daily briefings, she still doesn't know what she's supposed to do in the even violence breaks out.
Commander Deon McCaulley responded that she wouldn't be expected to "gear up." Mostly, she's just expected to provide information if she gets any, and to continue being a positive force in the community.
Meantime, Cleveland's non-violent protesters continue to remind skeptics and doomsdayers, via social media, that there has been no credible threat of violence from their various camps. They intend to continue protesting peacefully, as they did again this morning, outside the Justice Center.
Mayor Frank Jackson, however, saw fit to chime in with an editorial on Cleveland.com, stressing once again that violence would not be tolerated from protesters or police officers (a bit of irony there, in that violent police have been tolerated for years).
"It is my hope that we can show the nation that peaceful demonstrations and dialogue, not violence and destruction, are the right direction as we move forward as One Cleveland," wrote Jackson Sunday.
At Monday's meeting, Reggie Rucker hinted that if violence did erupt, Jackson has a curfew up his sleeve and might be inclined to use it as a sort of trump card.
A City spokesman, though, said he was not aware of any discussion at City Hall regarding a city-wide curfew.