How Cleveland police instigated violence and destruction and lied about it


Even after moving to California, I still get a daily newsletter from Chris Quinn, the editor of Cleveland.com, the online news site affiliated with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A recent one once again showed why you should never, ever, believe the version of events that are put by the police following some fast-moving events because they will simply lie to deflect blame away from themselves and onto the victims of their violence. In this case, there was violence and property destruction in downtown Cleveland during protests last month following the death of George Floyd and the police were quick to issue a statement that said that it was initiated by the protestors and that was what caused the police to move in with force, using their arsenal of tear gas and so-called non-lethal weaponry which we know can inflict tremendous harm.

Here is what Quinn writes in his newsletter about what reporter Cory Shaffer actually found.

The police version was that protesters grew increasingly unruly, ultimately attacking police with rocks and leaving officers little choice but to disperse the crowd with tear gas and less-lethal projectiles, like rubber or wooden bullets and pellets filled with hot pepper concentrate.

Cory’s sources, who were at the protest, said they saw almost no unruliness from the crowd before the police launched the assault. They said some people threw water bottles or some food toward the police, but no rocks. No windows were broken and no fires were set — until after the police began firing tear gas and projectiles.

Cory has done a series of stories getting ever closer to that truth. He first raised questions about how or whether police had issued an actual order to the crowd to disperse before opening fire. No one Cory interviewed heard any such order. We had a team at the protest, and we didn’t hear such an order. Video showed that the police did issue an order, but not in a way where the vast majority of the crowd could hear it.

Cory next wrote about how police fired pepper spray and projectiles at lawyers who attended the protest to observe it. I didn’t know this, but the National Lawyer’s Guild trains attorneys in how to observe things like protests. They wear yellow shirts and hats so that everyone knows they are not participants but observers. They want to ensure that protesters’ rights are protected.

And in Cleveland, officers shot projectiles at them.

Cory also brought you the story of John Sanders, who was simply walking down the street near the Justice Center when an officer shot him with a bean bag. It cost Sanders an eye. And this is not a case of Sanders saying he was just walking down the street. A video shows Sanders was not doing anything wrong or being aggressive. He was alone and walking down the street, and an officer shot him. Watch the video in Cory’s story and judge for yourself whether Sanders was a threat or deserved to be shot.

He also brought you the story of Emily Forsee and Ryan Jones, who were walking down another street near the Justice Center, taking photos, when an officer popped up in a shattered window and shot projectiles at them. The shooting left Forsee and Jones with welts and bruises, and both remain baffled as to why they were shot.

Perhaps the best story Cory has produced so far resulted from the first thing he did to report it. He put in requests for all of the video from Justice Center surveillance cameras and police body cameras, as well as use of force reports. As often happens with the city, the records were slow to come. Cory’s still waiting for many of them. But he did get the bulk of the video for the Justice Center video cameras.

The many hours of video Cory watched provides no evidence that violence by the protesters sparked a police response. What Cory saw was an aggressive but largely peaceful crowd, until police began firing upon it.

Cory says this is an important distinction. If the crowd became violent first, police can claim justification for their unprecedented firing of less-lethal projectiles at the citizenry. If not, serious questions remain about why police escalated the violence.

“I think a lot of people have used the destruction and everything that happened to justify and to excuse and validate every action that every police officer took that day.”

There is no reason to think that the Cleveland police are an aberration when it comes to this kind of lying. Indeed, their police chief Calvin Williams had, I believe, a fairly good reputation for trying to establish good relations with the community and the way he handled the Republican National Convention in 2016 was widely praised. Maybe he thought that his reputation would prevent the truth from coming out. What is worse is that his lies were backed up by the mayor Frank Jackson.

It is just instinctive for police and the authorities who have easy access to the media to issue quick statements that justify their behavior, hoping that by the time the truth comes out, the public will not be paying any attention. They must not be given the benefit of the doubt.