Protest for Peace on Severance Circle, outside Cleveland Heights City Hall sets tone for dialogue
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Hundreds of marchers banded with city officials and police in “The Protest For Peace” around Severance Circle Wednesday (June 3).
They called for an end to the violence against black people at the hands of law enforcement officers, who most recently caused the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day and sparked unrest across the country.
And as co-organizer and Cleveland Heights resident Avery Pope surmised afterward, “The work starts now.”
When city officials learned of the plans for a peaceful protest, they reached out to Pope and fellow organizer Tyler Thompson, both college students and Lutheran East High School alumni, to ensure a successful and meaningful demonstration.
In fact, Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg and City Manager Tanisha Briley offered to join them on the march. The two had issued a joint statement on Saturday (May 30) as rioting flared up during protests in downtown Cleveland.
And while Cleveland Heights trains its officers in “bias-free policing” and holds them to a strict use-of-force policy, Briley and Mecklenburg acknowledged in the statement and at the peace rally that no community is immune to the racially charged episodes witnessed most recently in Minneapolis, Louisville, Ky., Glynn County, Ga., and elsewhere.
"Today, we saw the spirit of #ClevelandHeights in action as residents and friends gathered at City Hall in a peaceful protest," officials noted afterward on the city's Facebook page.
"The Cleveland Heights Police Department, along with our city leadership, would like to thank the demonstrators for their peaceful protest and for speaking out for the betterment of our community and beyond," the post continued.
Hundreds in attendance at the June 3 Cleveland Heights Protest for Peace took a knee in silence for 8 minutes and 42 seconds outside of City Hall.Roger Glenn Hill
Arriving at City Hall at the end of the march that included chants of “I Can’t Breathe,” protesters, along with some city officials and police, knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds -- the amount of time that a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, calmly choking the life out of him.
“The CHPD prides itself on our community outreach, transparency and communications,” the city’s Facebook page entry added. “We are pleased to have started an important dialogue today. Police relations in our community remain a priority for us, and we are always open to constructive suggestions on how we can continue to improve.”
Some concerns have been voiced recently over a Feb. 27 incident at Marc’s grocery store in Coventry Village, in which a reportedly uncooperative black man was restrained and detained over his resemblance to a suspect in a “shots fired” call at a gas station the night before.
"We are demanding answers for excessive force use in training methods and change in de-escalation tactics in order to ensure that overt violence and aggression to detain 'suspects' are not used," a flyer circulated before the Protest for Peace stated.
Mecklenburg had already initiated discussions with City Council on any potential room for improvement in police policy.
“Police relations in our community is a priority for us, and we are always open to constructive suggestions on how we can continue to improve,” city officials stated. “Through mandatory training on diversity and inclusion and proper use of force, we strive to always demonstrate fair treatment.”
For Pope, now a senior at Ohio University, and Thompson, a senior at Wilberforce University set to graduate in December -- both members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity -- silence is simply not an option.
The organizers of the June 3 Protest for Peace and march outside Cleveland City Hall, Lutheran East High School alumni Avery Pope, left, a senior at Ohio University and Tyler Thompson, a senior at Wilberforce University, arrived with a lot of masks and water for the hundreds who turned out.Roger Glenn Hill
“Silence won’t be an option ever again,” Pope stated. “The people showed up, showed out, and were not silent.
“Town hall meetings are being set up as we speak, and dialogue with officers following the very peaceful protest was healthy,” Pope added. "Thank you, Cleveland Heights, and anyone from any other community who took part.”
Briley concurred on the potential of a town hall meeting, although the current coronavirus pandemic could result in a “virtual” approach, online or otherwise, with those plans still being discussed.
"We hear the message of the protesters and support their right to free speech and the right to assemble," city officials added on Facebook. "We thank them for sharing their voices in a peaceful and productive manner."