Dear Michelle Russell, sister of Timothy:
I am so sorry that you have to endure this third injustice regarding your brother. I hope that you can find some peace despite the court not being able to punish this Cleveland Police Officer for the murder of your brother. I know that this undermines your confidence and other's confidence in the justice system and, in fact, local government. It is unfathomable that a man sworn to protect the Constitution could jump up on the hood of your brother's car, reload his weapon firing 49 times, and that does not result in a conviction. Have we reached the point that those wearing a badge are above the law and cannot be prosecuted? We are so thankful that you have dedicated your life to serving low income and homeless people and have participated as a NEOCH Board member over the past five years in pushing social justice. Your strength in court, testifying on behalf of your brother, and in the press conferences has been a model of stoicism.
The first injustice was that we could not quickly move your brother back to stability and better assist with his behavioral health issues. Because of privacy rules, there was no way to reach out to family members to alert them that their son, brother, and friend was struggling with many issues including homelessness. The homeless service system has little ability to get family members involved if the homeless individual is embarrassed or unwilling to have contact with family members. We never made the link that your brother was a client of another NEOCH Board member and that he needed help that he was not finding in the current social service system. We may have made some strides in changing the social service system since 2012 with coordinated intake, but I am not sure we are yet responding appropriately when family members become homelessness in Cleveland.
The second injustice was the police chase and then execution of your brother for not stopping when faced by a wall of blue. I grieve for you, Michelle and hope that you can find peace after this horrible incident. I trust that with all the investigations and the Justice Department condemning of the Cleveland Police provides you some comfort. I was encouraged that there will be improved training, police cameras in the cars and body cameras on all patrolmen as a result of this tragedy. But none of that will bring back your brother or Malissa Williams. It is incomprehensible that more officers were not charged with a felony after the death of two homeless people in our community. How can two unarmed people fleeing for their lives be gunned down in a parking lot in East Cleveland? How can race not be taken into account with so many white officers executing two African Americans? The 13 police officers had all these weapons and police cars against these two people with a mental illness driving in a 25 year old car and so far have faced only a 30 day suspension. Why is lethal force the first response by the Cleveland Police Department in this and a number of other incidents? How bad was the training of the CPD officers that this could go so wrong? And is anyone going to pay for how bad these officers were trained? After all, both the Chief and Safety Director at the time were promoted after the November 29 murder of your brother.
The final injustice was today with the not guilty verdict of one of the police officer in your brother's death. We listened to the verdict and all the comments after the verdict and are still stunned by the Judge's decision. The Judge was so meticulous in detailing every shot and every step of the shooting (how you were able to sit in the court room for that hour was amazing). The details overwhelmed the big picture of 60 police cars and 137 bullets. It seemed that the Judge was mired in when your brother's heart stopped and which bullet killed Williams while ignoring the injustice of 13 police officers immediately shooting two unarmed citizens. Why is it so easy to put a black man with drug paraphernalia or a box cutter in jail, but the police who kill, choke to death, or violently restrain a mentally ill woman are given a walk? Why are African Americans who kill a white bar owner immediately charged and pushed into a plea deal while we wait months and years to get justice when a white police officer uses lethal force against an African American? Many in Greater Cleveland are saddened and embarrassed that justice for Williams and your brother is delayed.
Our community needs your voice to promote police reform and a dramatic change in oversight of law enforcement. I hope that you will become involved in enforcing the Justice Department agreement to make sure that your brother's voice lives on. We need a complete overhaul of the police union contract with the City and a new strategy on rehabilitation instead of incarceration. Stay strong in the face of injustice.
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