Two years ago today, Michael Brelo was found “justified” in the 2012 killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in East Cleveland. I bring this example up frequently, because it was not only the impetus for the DOJ investigation into the Cleveland PD that was ongoing during the Tamir Rice shooting but also one of the first times in my life I thought to truly reflect on the role of police in our society—the facts are so egregious that it is nearly impossible not to.
Russell and Williams’ car was driving outside the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland when police heard a loud bang. Police gave chase through the streets of Cleveland, with at least 62 police cars confirmed involved in some portion of the chase.
Seven miles away from the initial scene, police cornered the car in a middle school and opened fire. Because police were firing on the car from multiple angles, they assumed that there was fire being returned from the car. A total of 137 shots were fired, with Brelo firing 49 of those shots, including the last fifteen of the 137 when he jumped onto the hood of the car. Russell was struck 23 times, and Williams was struck 24 times.
No weapon was found, and the overwhelming evidence indicates that the car backfired.
Brelo was found justified by the judge in the case because even after 100 shots, he “reasonably could have concluded that the threat had not stopped” because Russell and Williams could still be moving.
One year ago today, Edward Nero was found not guilty of all charges in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray, of course, was killed in 2015 after a spinal cord injury while riding in the back of a police van. The DOJ opened a federal investigation into the practices of the Baltimore PD as a result of Gray’s death.
Today, we live under a DOJ that has declined to pursue further investigations, most notably in the case of Alton Sterling, killed in 2016 by police restraining him on the ground, even as the state of Louisiana continues to mull charges.
And in the meantime, the Terence Crutchers of the world continue to be underserved by a justice system that throws away the key when its gaze is trained on them. (The status of the DOJ investigation into Crutcher’s shooting by Betty Jo Shelby is unclear after the forced resignation of the Northern District of Oklahoma US Attorney in March.) Indeed, if you extrapolate the numbers from The Counted, the Guardian’s database on police killings, approximately 2200 Black and Latino people have been killed by police in the 54 months since Russell and Williams had the misfortune to drive an older car past on-duty police. (For comparison, 9/11 tallies 2977 casualties.)
The administration’s overarching incompetence is undeniably newsworthy, but we cannot forget about problems that we have not solved. Problems where we cannot ignore the loss of allies in positions of entrenched power. Problems that deserve better than to be below the fold or stuck in the back pages.
Say their names. Even as the list lengthens with each day.
Especially as the list lengthens with each day.
No justice, no peace.