Greater Cleveland Congregations Puts County Justice System on "Trial"

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One thousand fourteen people filled Fairmount Temple in Beachwood last night to attend a trial of sorts and hear from the two Democratic candidates running for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor.  ideastream’s Annie Wu was a witness to the proceedings.

"Tonight we are not here for a candidates’ forum. Tonight we are here to put the justice system on trial."

Lorna Anderson with the Greater Cleveland Congregations delivered the “trial’s” “opening statement” followed by “evidence” of inequality presented by Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk.

"Why do our leaders in the face of signs of despair and addiction in the lives of so many in our county, hold back on the path to diversion?  Nullify the way to probation?  Deny a means of accommodation? Give up on building education?  Concede to their frustration? And call only for incarceration?"

Two “witnesses” testified to the different treatment that urban black kids receive in the criminal justice system compared to suburban whites.  And Pastor Richard Gibson acted as judge, ruling the system unjust but changeable.

"Because we know that there could be a better Greater Cleveland.  And we are not at our best now."

Gibson asked the two candidates – Michael O’Malley and incumbent Timothy McGinty – to address three demands for reforming the county's criminal justice system: an independent prosecution of police use of lethal force cases, an end to over-charging defendants who could be charged with misdemeanors instead of felonies, and increased diversion of drug cases to addiction and treatment programs.  

Both candidates agreed with the GCC that the Ohio Attorney General should oversee all police use of lethal force cases.  O’Malley also pledged, if elected, to convene a summit of urban and suburban prosecutors to address low level drug cases.

"So you’re not treated one way in the suburbs, one way in the city of Cleveland, one way in Shaker, one way in Beachwood, one way in Warrensville, one way in Bedford.  We need consistent charging that puts people into treatment and cures the problem, not fills up prisons."

Each candidate was given two minutes to speak and McGinty used part of his time to discuss his record of diverting urban drug cases to treatment programs or offering reduced charges. 

"By design we charge less to rehabilitate more but we have a long way to go.  And yes I promise with every case that comes through our system to ask, 'Does this case really need to be a felony?'"

McGinty – who’s been criticized for his handling of police involved shooting cases -- told the audience that he "hears" them.  He was referring to the GCC’s demands for criminal justice reform but he may also have heard the distant boos joining in the applause from the audience.

"I can do much more and I give you my promise, we will. Thank you."

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