Sunday, May 24, 2015

Michael Brelo's "Constitutionally Reasonable Effort"

Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo
Imagine if members of the police in a Russian, Chinese, North Korean or Iranian city sent more than 100 officers in pursuit of a car with two occupants inside in a chase that lasted over 22 minutes and stretched over 20 miles.

Now picture what the reaction of the American public and the politicians who represent us might be if, once that car was stopped and cornered in the parking lot of a middle school, at least 13 of those police officers pulled out their hand guns and fired 137 shots at the unarmed couple inside, who it turns out, were being mistakenly pursued after the muffler of their 1979 Chevy Malibu backfired and someone mistook it for gunshots. 

It's fair to say that there would probably be a lot of righteous indignation and moral outrage expressed in mainstream and social media.

Op-ed writers, talking heads on television and average Americans alike would more than likely condemn such an act as a flagrant human rights violation.

If, as my hypothetical above suggests, such an act had taken place in a city like Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang or Tehran, US politicians in Washington would likely be on the floor of the Senate or House, or on the Sunday morning news programs condemning such an act as an example of the need for more "Democracy" and criticizing the respective nation's leaders for oppressing their citizens.

But as you've probably heard by now, that event actually took place in the city of Cleveland, Ohio just after the Thanksgiving holiday back on November 29, 2012.

Victims Malissa Williams (left) and Timothy Russell (right)
The two occupants of the car, driver Timothy Russell and his passenger Malissa Williams (pictured left), were not only unarmed, from the evidence presented in court they hadn't actually committed a crime or violated a law; aside from fleeing from the 100 police officers who were chasing them.

The 13 Cleveland police officers who actually fired the 137 shots at the car were all white, save for one Hispanic officer; while the unarmed couple were African-American. 

As was widely reported around the globe yesterday, Cuyahoga, Cleveland Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell acquitted police officer Michael Brelo of two charges of manslaughter in the deaths of Williams and Russell.

Brelo was also found not guilty of the lesser charge of felonious assault even though he personally fired an astounding 49 shots from his Glock 17 pistol, Judge O'Donnell ruled that there was inconclusive proof that any of Brelo's shots were the ones that actually killed the couple.

Bear in mind that after all 13 officers had finished firing 122 shots at the car, it was officer Brelo (who'd already fired 34 shots into the vehicle), who then reloaded his Glock 17, jumped up onto the front hood of the car and fired 15 more shots directly into the vehicle at both passengers.

In his closing remarks to the court, Judge O'Donnell said Brelo was legally excused from responsibility for his actions because the harm he caused the two victims was done in a "Constitutionally reasonable effort."  

As an article on the shooting in yesterday's New York Times noted, a 2014 study by the Department of Justice found "a pattern of 'unreasonable and unnecessary use of force' within the department."

A pattern that includes the deaths of two unarmed African-Americans in November of 2014; Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old boy who was shot and killed by Cleveland police while brandishing a toy gun in a park, and Tanisha Anderson, a 37 year-old woman who suffered from bi-polar disorder who was in police custody when, according to the New York Times, she "died after being placed face down on the pavement. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide."     

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker
As someone fascinated by history, it is of interest to note that yesterday, the day the acquittal of officer Brelo was announced, was the 81st anniversary of the famous police ambush of outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker on an isolated road deep in the woods of Bienville Parish, Louisiana back on the morning of May 23, 1934.

"Bonnie and Clyde", as they are widely known, had been eluding police for months after committing a high-profile string of robberies and holdups across five mid-western states and the murder of at least nine different people; including Oklahoma police deputy Eugene C. Moore on August 5, 1932.

When the couple drove into the ambush, a posse of four Texas lawmen and two police officers from Louisiana fired about 130 rounds from automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns at their car.
According to the official coroner's report filed by Dr. J.L. Wade in 1934, Clyde Barrow was shot 17 times and Bonnie Parker was shot 26 times; some historians say it was more.

When police searched the bullet-ridden car they found a cache of automatic rifles, shotguns, handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Cleveland police fired 137 shots at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were unarmed and had committed no actual crime to warrant the police pursuit.

So here we are in the 21st century and for now, no Cleveland police officer has been found guilty of any charge whatsoever after they fired more shots at an innocent unarmed African-American couple than were fired at Bonnie and Clyde who'd committed a string of robberies and nine different murders across five states in 1934.

Interestingly, Judge O'Donnell ruled that even though Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams hadn't actually fired a shot from the car and didn't even have a gun in the first place, officer Michael Brelo's fear that they had done so was enough to warrant his use of deadly force on two innocent unarmed people.

It's a rather peculiar interpretation of the law, and a sad one for the families and friends of these two victims who never had a chance to testify on their own behalf.

The US justice system has ruled (once again) that the perceptions or fears of a police officer, whether they're actually right or not, outweigh the value of the life of an African-American citizen.

Fears that in this case, were triggered by a muffler backfiring, and so tragically proved to be both completely "unreasonable and unnecessary."

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