RNC in Cleveland: One Year Out

 

Last summer in Cleveland was filled with Republicans electing the future President of the United States.  NEOCH was busy organizing, protesting and keeping homeless people safe.  We posted a few images from last year on the front of our website and those will be available on our photo galleries page. We reflected on the RNC last July and you can read that by clicking on the blue text.

We started out joining a lawsuit with the ACLU and both pro Trump and anti Trump protestors against the City of Cleveland.  Our interest was the overly broad enforcement "event area," and whether all these out of town police could disrupt homeless encampments.  This would have allowed law enforcement to search, sieze and bar movement from many areas where homeless people sleep especially across the river.  We won in court and the City had to reduce the event zone.  NEOCH staff provided a one page sheet on how to assist homeless people to the two thousand police who came to town.

We worked to keep homeless people safe with transportation from the East Side to the drop in centers on the West Side.  NEOCH staff did some voter registration activities on the West Side of Cleveland so they did not have to cross the river during the RNC.  We had to figure out where homeless people could go during the day since the Cosgrove Center drop in Center was closed for the week. There was much media about homelessness and the convention both nationally and locally.

NEOCH staff were involved in the protest on the Monday of the RNC that Organize Ohio put together.   We made signs to End Poverty.  We marched.  We listened to speeches asking for Republican leaders to think about the affordable housing crisis, health care for all, increasing income, and stabilizing disability assistance in America.   It was a hot day and a long walk from Lutheran Metro Ministry down to just outside of the "event zone" at Chester Commons.  There were some fantastic speeches like the mom worried about the incendiary language during the campaign about immigrants. There were environmentalists who were concerned about global warming.  There were Black Lives Matter activists worried about unaccountable police. And there were activists asking for a $15 minimum wage and universal access to healthcare in the United States.

Overall, the best of Cleveland was shown to the United States last summer.  We could protest peacefully.  There were very few arrests during the week.  The Police Chief was out among the people talking, keeping the peace and wearing shorts and not riot gear.  Homeless people were not harrassed and could stand with the other pedestrians on the Lorain Carnegie Bridge in peaceful prayer.  There were no arrests or sweeps of homeless people as happened in previous high profile events in the United States.  It was a huge disruption for the one week and it was difficult getting across the river, but it was also quite a spectcle to watch.  I saw people walking downtown that I have never seen before in our fair city.  There were suburban folks from Nebraska who had never seen so much concrete.  There were cowboy hat and boot wearing young men from Montana who had not seen this many minority citizens in the same location. 

Very few of the 20,000 Republican delegates and guests had thought much about homelessness and we did all that we could to get homeless people into the news last summer.  I was skeptical about bringing a party that has a history of hostility toward those living in poverty to a majority Democratic city, but it worked.  There were precincts in the City of Cleveland in 2012 that not one person in that precinct voted for the Republican candidate for President.  I was worried that there would be hostility between the two groups, but Clevelanders were extremely welcoming and hospitable to people who largely see the world differently from most residents of Cleveland.  The Republican Convention of 2016 benefitted the City of Cleveland, and I hope that other cities will look at our ability to host a secure event without harming the residents (including homeless people) in the process and use that as an example. 

Brian Davis

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Timothy Russell Family Find No Justice in Cleveland

Dear Michelle Russell, sister of Timothy:

I am so sorry that you have to endure this third injustice regarding your brother.  I hope that you can find some peace despite the court not being able to punish this Cleveland Police Officer for the murder of your brother.  I know that this undermines your confidence and other's confidence in the justice system and, in fact, local government.  It is unfathomable that a man sworn to protect the Constitution could jump up on the hood of your brother's car, reload his weapon firing 49 times, and that does not result in a conviction.  Have we reached the point that those wearing a badge are above the law and cannot be prosecuted?  We are so thankful that you have dedicated your life to serving low income and homeless people and have participated as a NEOCH Board member over the past five years in pushing social justice.  Your strength in court, testifying on behalf of your brother, and in the press conferences has been a model of stoicism. 

The first injustice was that we could not quickly move your brother back to stability and better assist with his behavioral health issues.  Because of privacy rules, there was no way to reach out to family members to alert them that their son, brother, and friend was struggling with many issues including homelessness.  The homeless service system has little ability to get family members involved if the homeless individual is embarrassed or unwilling to have contact with family members.  We never made the link that your brother was a client of another NEOCH Board member and that he needed help that he was not finding in the current social service system.  We may have made some strides in changing the social service system since 2012 with coordinated intake, but I am not sure we are yet responding appropriately when family members become homelessness in Cleveland. 

The second injustice was the police chase and then execution of your brother for not stopping when faced by a wall of blue.  I grieve for you, Michelle and hope that you can find peace after this horrible incident.  I trust that with all the investigations and the Justice Department condemning of the Cleveland Police provides you some comfort. I was encouraged that there will be improved training, police cameras in the cars and body cameras on all patrolmen as a result of this tragedy. But none of that will bring back your brother or Malissa Williams.   It is incomprehensible that more officers were not charged with a felony after the death of two homeless people in our community.  How can two unarmed people fleeing for their lives be gunned down in a parking lot in East Cleveland?  How can race not be taken into account with so many white officers executing two African Americans? The 13 police officers had all these weapons and police cars against these two people with a mental illness driving in a 25 year old car and so far have faced only a 30 day suspension.  Why is lethal force the first response by the Cleveland Police Department in this and a number of other incidents?  How bad was the training of the CPD officers that this could go so wrong?  And is anyone going to pay for how bad these officers were trained?   After all, both the Chief and Safety Director at the time were promoted after the November 29 murder of your brother.

The final injustice was today with the not guilty verdict of one of the police officer in your brother's death.  We listened to the verdict and all the comments after the verdict and are still stunned by the Judge's decision.  The Judge was so meticulous in detailing every shot and every step of the shooting (how you were able to sit in the court room for that hour was amazing).  The details overwhelmed the big picture of 60 police cars and 137 bullets.  It seemed that the Judge was mired in when your brother's heart stopped and which bullet killed Williams while ignoring the injustice of 13 police officers immediately shooting two unarmed citizens.  Why is it so easy to put a black man with drug paraphernalia or a box cutter in jail, but the police who kill, choke to death, or violently restrain a mentally ill woman are given a walk?  Why are African Americans who kill a white bar owner immediately charged and pushed into a plea deal while we wait months and years to get justice when a white police officer uses lethal force against an African American?  Many in Greater Cleveland are saddened and embarrassed that justice for Williams and your brother is delayed. 

Our community needs your voice to promote police reform and a dramatic change in oversight of law enforcement.  I hope that you will become involved in enforcing the Justice Department agreement to make sure that your brother's voice lives on.  We need a complete overhaul of the police union contract with the City and a new strategy on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  Stay strong in the face of injustice.

Brian Davis

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Police Oppose Columbia South Carolina Law

We wrote about this "crazy South Carolina law"  in the last two week, but it turns out that not even the police agree with the scope of this law.  Huffington Post printed an article on August 28, detailing Columbia Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago's opposition to the new law.  The National Law Center has been raising concerns about this issue and staff appeared on MSNBC last week.  The Huffington Post quoted the acting police chief saying, " We can't just take people to somewhere they don't want to go.  I can't do that. I won't do that." 

It is amazing that the legislation was passed without opposition at the Council.  No one thought that this might be a violation of constitutional rights of the low income?  Then the comments made by Councilman Cameron Runyan in the face of this opposition is even more amazing.  This was his quote in the Huffington Post article, "We have to understand that the only cure for poverty is commerce." This is the basis of his law, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.  Commerce does not get a person who cannot work (long term disabled) more income.  People who have a criminal background and cannot find a job are far away from the ability to engage in legal commerce.  Commerce does not cure the individual who is addicted and can only find programs that will help after she has cured herself.   It is no wonder that they came up with such a misguided solution when they were starting with the premise that poverty has been left unchecked thus destroying commerce. 

Councilman Runyan was willing to say publicly that the suffering of his citizens who are without housing was hurting businesses. He did not mention the impact on the kids, their schools or the breakup of families. This policy of arresting people who do not go into shelter has so many problems with putting business over the welfare of his own citizens among the top.  I believe that all of these Councilmembers should be fired from their elected office for their stunning lack of human decency or concern for their own voters.  Is it hubris or a lack of understanding or an inability to grasp complex issues?  These men and women elected to represent all the residents (including those without a fixed residence) need to spend the weekend on the streets of Columbia to see how things work.  They need to host a group of homeless people to talk about the issues, and most of all they need to repeal this law and convene a plan to provide safety and security rather than jail to those proud homeowners foreclosed on in Columbia or former tenants who are waiting for disability screenings. 

Brian Davis

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