On the day Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was found "not guilty" on all counts against him in the tragic and unnecessary execution-style deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, I was in complete shock.
My Reaction to the Deaths
I remember the morning after the two Cleveland residents were murdered in November 2012. I was heading back to college in Virginia after having spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family here at home. My mother called to tell me the news, and in her voice I heard equal parts disbelief and fear. I could tell that she had yet to wrap her own mind around the words that exited her mouth, and as I listened to her recount the story, I began to sob. I did so silently, as to not upset her and make her regret telling me about the heinous actions of the people who “serve and protect” our city.
But even in that deep feeling of despair and sorrow, I fought through the tears and declared to her that they would have their day in court; that no law or judge could possibly justify the actions of the officers who murdered residents of their own city in cold blood, especially since there was video evidence of the entire encounter. I held strong to that hope, as the city held its breath awaiting the day that the case would be brought to trial.
As we waited, we witnessed the murderers of countless innocent victims go free across this country. People who used fear and cowardice as excuses for taking the lives of those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. These tragedies hurt our African-American community in ways that will never be reversed, yet the Cleveland community still remained hopeful up until May 23, when the Brelo Trial verdict was announced.
On that day, we witnessed the “justice” system fail Cleveland, the same way as it had failed Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Missouri before us. I watched the minute-by-minute broadcast of the judge’s decision via my cell phone while at work on that Saturday morning, and the fire that began to slowly and steadily burn in my stomach let me know that I had to take action. I had to do something to show my disapproval and disgust for the actions of the legal system—from the officers who murdered my fellow Clevelanders to the judge who found them not guilty to the laws that make it all “just.”
On that day, we witnessed the "justice" system fail Cleveland, the same way it had failed Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Missouri before us.
—Brelo Trial Protester
I traveled downtown to the Justice Center, with a close friend, to join the protesters that had been gathering all afternoon. We ended up in a group of demonstrators, facing a line of armed sheriffs whose job was to protect their building. Once the crowd dissipated, I found my voice and shouted questions at the officers, questions that the people of Cleveland deserved to have answered about the deaths of these two innocent people. I yelled until it was dark and my voice was hoarse.
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My friend and I ended that night still with the pain of the day’s events sitting in our chests, the thoughts of the countless lives lost before Timothy’s and Malissa’s in our minds. But I held my head higher because I knew that I had made my voice heard. I showed my disgust to those who deserved to see it—the “civil servants” who wrongfully murdered my fellow man and used their laws to justify it.
While this experience was therapeutic for me, I know that this fight is far from over. When the time comes, I’ll be ready to do what’s right.
In an effort to encourage first-person accounts of a protest, the ACLU of Ohio has decided to grant requests of anonymity to authors.