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Officer's Acquittal Highlights Tense Police, Community Relations In Cleveland


In Cleveland, the not-guilty verdict in the trial of police officer Michael Brelo is raising questions about the tense police-community relations in that city. Brelo, who is white, was acquitted this weekend in the shooting deaths of two unarmed black motorists in 2012. The city has been negotiating a consent decree with the Department of Justice since December over police practices in a number of controversial cases. There are reports that an agreement could come as early as this week. David C. Barnett of member station WCPN reports.

DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: Otto Revere walked out of the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland this morning, a free man for now. He pleaded not-guilty in municipal court after being arrested with 70 other protesters who police say were ordered to disperse this past Saturday. Although Revere was in the streets to protest the Brelo decision, he says he was focused on a disconnect between police and the communities that they serve.

OTTO REVERE: Right is right, and wrong is wrong. And what they doing here - not just in this city, all over America - is just unacceptable.

BARNETT: It's a sentiment that's been voiced here repeatedly in recent years, most recently after the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a rookie police officer and the case of Tanisha Anderson, a woman with mental illness who died as officers took her into custody. Mike Walker has been working to build better community relations with the police in Cleveland for 30 years, and he's concerned that we expect too much of them.

MIKE WALKER: We're asking our officers - and I say our 'cause they belong to us - to do things that they really aren't capable to do.

BARNETT: Ohio State Senator Nina Turner agrees that many officers don't have all the skills needed to work with their communities. She recently took a statewide tour to listen to the concerns of residents who felt that they were treated badly by the police.

NINA TURNER: Even people who told the most harsh stories about their treatment - they still had this outlook that we need the police and maybe all they need is more training.

BARNETT: Although Turner is unhappy with the Brelo verdict, she says she's glad that the protests were mostly peaceful. She's concerned about how some residents may react if police officer Timothy Loehmann isn't charged in the Tamir Rice shooting. An investigation of that has been underway for months.

TURNER: Which is very troubling to me - that it's still taking this long. And that adds to the pressure cooker.

BARNETT: Police supervisors and officers who took part in a high-speed chase and shootout are also being investigated. For now, residents anxiously await the results of the Rice investigation. Mike Walker says many here feel that justice in America is meted out unfairly.

WALKER: And the reality is, let's stop being hypocrites. If all lives matter, whether there was a murder by an officer or murder by the citizen down the street, we want justice in all cases - no excuses.

BARNETT: Last year, a Justice Department report excoriated the Cleveland Police Department for what it said was a pattern and practice of using unreasonable force. The city is reportedly close to signing a consent decree with the DOJ that would begin to enact reforms throughout Cleveland's police department. For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David C. Barnett