Commentary: Homeless People Changed Our World in Cleveland

Commentary by Brian Davis

The staff and board of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless are fortunate to have Michelle Russell as part of the organization.  She lost her brother in November 2012 at the hands of police aggression and then in May 2015 she had to face a second injustice with the only officer to face serious criminal charges found not guilty.   We published a remembrance of Timothy in December 2012 and we revised it here with the perspective of everything that has happened since.

Back in 2012, the family remembered Timothy Russell as a man of God who had a thirst for life.  Timothy had some rough times, but was trying to get his life in order at the time of his death.  He was a member of the Twinsburg Seventh Day Adventist church, and was fondly remembered by his Pastor Steven Valles.  Russell was a laborer, and had one son also named Timothy.   Father and brother Timothy had struggled with behavioral health issues and was living in a shelter at the time of his death. 

I heard from a number of people living in the shelters that they were afraid that relations between the safety forces and homeless people would deteriorate.  It was a sad day back in 2012 for the Russell family, the homeless community, and African Americans who see this through the prism of the civil rights movement and a setback in relations between the police and the public.  Since that time, we have seen more deaths at the hands of police including a young boy holding a toy gun. 

All this attention to two self medicating homeless people drinking a Coke in a 30 year old car that backfired.  They drew the attention of nearly every police officer on duty under the questionable intelligence that these two who met up near the men’s shelter had fired at a police officer.  Then the State of Ohio and the County Prosecutor investigated and determined that there was bad training, bad supervision, poor decisions, and one officer was charged with a serious crime. Many people began paying attention to the police and lost confidence in their judgment and were shocked over their “no snitch” culture.  Then the US Justice Department stepped in to say that there was a pattern and practice of excessive use of force and regular constitutional violations by the Cleveland Police Department. 

In the end, many of the disciplinary actions were reversed and the most of the officers were left without much punishment for taking the life of two unarmed homeless people running in fear of their lives.   The Police Department in Cleveland will be forever changed and the relationship between police and citizens will never be the same.  All because of two damaged homeless people.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronical and NEOCH June 2015