Local protesters faced off with the Cleveland Police Department Sunday evening to express outrage over last week's death of George Floyd, as well as to voice concerns about police brutality.
The assembly of protesters gathered on a sidewalk across the street from the Cleveland Police Service Center, which is located on Church Street in downtown Cleveland. The street was closed from First Street to Second Street.
Across the street, CPD officers stood guard outside the police station, some clad in tactical gear and carrying "less lethal shotguns" loaded with rubber bullets in case violence broke out.
But the face-off quickly lessened to face-to-face conversations when CPD Chief Mark Gibson and Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson crossed the divide to speak with the protesters and listen to their concerns.
“We understand why you’re here,” Gibson told the protesters. “We stand behind your right to protest. We are also here to protect your rights to protest peacefully.”
Lawson also spoke with demonstrators, but was drowned out by chants from some members of the group.
Both thanked the group for protesting peacefully.
While carrying signs emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe,” “No Justice No Peace,” and “It’s Not Black vs. White, It’s Everyone vs. Racism,” the group also chanted slogans such as “No justice, no peace.”
Anger over the death of Floyd, 46, the Minneapolis African-American man who died after he was arrested by police outside a store in Minneapolis on May 25, has resulted in mass demonstrations, as well as violence in several major cities in the United States, resulting in burned buildings, overturned vehicles, looting and hundreds of arrests.
Floyd had been detained by police after they had responded to a complaint alleging he had attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for food at a deli.
The outrage exploded after video footage of the arrest showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd's neck while he was pinned to the ground.
During the video, Floyd can be heard pleading for his life.
"I can't breathe," he gasped. "Don't kill me."
Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
According to media reports, Chauvin, who is white, had his knee on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, including two minutes and 53 seconds in which Floyd was non-responsive.
Chauvin, 44, has been charged with murder. Three other officers involved in the incidents have not been arrested.
Gibson said that incidents such as the one that took place in Minneapolis “hurts the country and hurts trust.”
The police chief also said that Chauvin’s fellow officers should have intervened.
“They're responsible to intervene for any action that violates policy,” he said, adding that the CPD firmly has policies in place to ensure errant officers are held accountable.
“We've held supervisors responsible because they didn't take appropriate actions in situations like that,” he said.
When asked by one member of the group if law enforcement training includes placing a knee on a suspect’s neck, Gibson said it was “not a part of the training.”
“That’s a very vital area,” he said. “You stay away from there. The goal is to restrain hands and take away that danger.”
Last year, a CPD lieutenant chose to retire after being demoted for failure to report a subordinate's alleged use of unnecessary force during a traffic stop.
The incident, involving CPD patrolman Matt Sharp, who reportedly kicked a suspect in the head during the traffic stop, was self-reported by the department to the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office. The incident also led to Sharp's termination.
Lt. Steve Tyson, a 32-year veteran of the Cleveland police force, was Sharp's superior officer and reportedly witnessed the incident.
According to the CPD report, when he was informed the department would begin an internal affairs investigation regarding the alleged excessive force by Sharp, Tyson “denied any knowledge of it and stated that he was unaware of any situation involving Sharp that would prompt an internal affairs investigation.”
However, Tyson did confirm during two separate interviews with internal affairs investigators that he had watched the video of the incident, according to a CPD report.
However, Tyson still did not take appropriate action to report the incident “even after being questioned about it by CPD administration,” the CPD report explained.
Tyson resigned on June 14, 2019.
Protester Terrence Davis said he was at the event to express his concerns.
“I'm here to have my voice heard,” he said.
Earlier Sunday, Davis said he stood at the corner of Paul Huff Parkway and Keith Street while holding a sign.
He was joined by others.
“My fellow citizens in the community joined me,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing.”
However, Davis said more of a statement was needed.
“So, we decided to come down here in front of the Cleveland Police Service Center just to let these guys know that we are aware of the injustices in our own backyard,” he said. "It's not just happening in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Atlanta. We have it right here in our own backyard, and we are aware of that.”
One of those joining Davis at the corner of Huff and Keith was Emma Cummings, who had attended a demonstration there on Saturday. She said she was organizing another protest for Sunday when she and her group saw Davis nearby.
“We all saw this man virtually by himself,” she said. "So, we brought our protest over to him.”
Cummings said she helped organize the protests to voice her support for her fellow residents.
“I want to stand up for my brothers and sisters and make sure they are safe,” she said.