The Glenville Riot
A grim Carl Stokes faced news reporters with an update on the explosive situation in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. The new mayor’s familiar smile had been lost over the course of a sleepless night.
SOUND Stokes News Conference: "I’m appealing to the citizens of Cleveland that if you don’t live in the general area of Glenville, running to Euclid Avenue, please don’t come into the area ..." [UNDER]
A group that called itself “The Republic of New Libya”, headed by black nationalist Ahmed Evans, had stockpiled a cache of high-powered weapons in a Glenville apartment. At about 8:30 that evening, shooting broke out between New Libya members and the police, which flared into a full-scale riot. To cool tensions, Stokes made the controversial call to pull all white police officers out of the neighborhood and substitute them with black community members.
SOUND Stokes News Conference: "Mayor, are you suggesting the police were responsible for last night’s disturbance?"
STOKES: No sir, I’m not suggesting any such thing. We know this is a problem primarily in the black community, and the black leadership wants to handle its own problems.
The decision to replace the officers remains controversial to this day. But, the violence that exploded in the streets on that July evening in 1968 had much deeper roots. The relationship between the African American community and the police had been a source of tension for centuries, according to Ronnie Dunn, a professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University.
RONNIE DUNN: That relationship goes all the way back to slavery and the role of the slave catchers or the “paddy rollers” as they were referred to. That’s the context on which this relationship is based.
Dunn has conducted extensive research on racial profiling and is currently examining the effectiveness of the Civilian Police Review Board in Cleveland, in the wake of a series of confrontations between black teenagers and police in 2005.
Of course, police/community tensions aren’t confined to Cleveland.
SOUND: Police rally UP & UNDER
Police supporters in Akron held a rally earlier this week for two patrolmen who shot a resident to death in an altercation over the 4th of July weekend. The police report that Jeffrey Stephens was holding a gun when the officers shot him 22 times. The incident is currently under investigation by an independent police auditor. This gathering was in reaction to a demonstration by black community members last week, protesting the police’s use of deadly force.
PAUL HLYNSKY: I don’t think there’s the tension between the black community and the police department that some people think there is.
Paul Hlynsky heads the Akron Fraternal Order of Police.
PAUL HLYNSKY: The people fueling the fire are these political activists. They don’t know the full story, but yet they rile everybody up with hypotheses that simply are not true, and that’s what causes the tension.
Long time community activist Herman Oden is a founding member of Akron’s Coalition for a Safe Community. Oden says his group doesn’t have a beef with the entire police department.
HERMAN ODEN: We have police officers that we can talk to. But, you’ve got a lot of cowboys running around here with black gloves on that see the black community as the enemy.
FOP president Paul Hlynsky allows as how more community policing could help relations between the police and the people that they serve.
PAUL HLYNSKY: These are officers who go into an area and try to determine the root causes of the problems in that area. We only have eight of those officers in our entire department that do that. They’re very good officers, but they’re taxed with heavy case-loads.
As in other cities, budget cuts have trimmed such outreach efforts. So, for the time being, the only community dialog seems to be coming in the form of dueling demonstrations. And as temperatures start to rise, the memories return of a hot summer night 40 years ago in Cleveland.