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City of Cleveland Criticized for Twitter Chat on Police Issues

A screen shot shows the Community Relations Board's now-deleted Tweets asking if Cleveland should be burned down. Photo by Tony Ganzer
A screen shot shows the Community Relations Board's now-deleted Tweets asking if Cleveland should be burned down. Photo by Tony Ganzer

When the city of Cleveland tried to prompt a Twitter conversation about police issues this weekend, critics responded by slamming not only the police department, but also the city’s approach to the discussion.

Cleveland’s Community Relations Board, charged with fostering peace between cultural groups, created a Twitter account Friday. Then the board chaired by Mayor Frank Jackson asked for thoughts on police-community relations, using the hashtag #OurCle.

When a flood of negative comments rolled in, the board’s Tweets seemed to push back. The first to draw fire read, “We respect everyone’s right to vent and speak out but this is #OurCle.”

Some Clevelanders tweeted back angrily, saying the city belonged to everyone, including those critical of the police and city leadership. They complained the board’s response seemed to dismiss critical feedback.

More Tweets by the board Monday evening brought a new wave of criticism. They’ve now been deleted, but other Twitter users posted screen shots. The first asked, “Should Cleveland be burned down like #bmore #ferguson #hough #central”? – references to race riots, including recent violence in Baltimore.

That’s when City Councilman Matt Zone chimed in.  “R u out of ur mind?” he Tweeted back.

“I thought it was a little unsensitive to the Baltimorians who are going through great pain right now,” Zone said in an interview Tuesday.

“It’s really hard to look at a situation like this and not use the word ‘idiot,” said Jared Bendis, a new media expert at Case Western Reserve University. He said many other organizations have bungled efforts to gather feedback on Twitter, “Because the reality of it is, ‘comment’ doesn’t mean comment; ‘comment’ means complaints. Nobody calls up to say nice things.”

Bendis said anonymous commenters on Twitter make it a poor forum for sensitive topics, and the board’s approach has been clumsy.

He says the city would do best to end the Twitter talk and focus more on the issues it raised.

The mayor’s office and Community Relations Board didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.