Cleveland Interfaith Rally Urges Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

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Members of Cuyahoga County’s faith community put their weight behind the push for police reform when hundreds marched through downtown Cleveland Tuesday afternoon. The rally was planned to follow a verdict in the Michael Brelo trial, but the group’s agenda was much broader.

The Greater Cleveland Congregations, a social-justice-minded interfaith group, brought Jews, Muslims, and Baptists together to call attention to a whole criminal justice system they say is broken.

Marchers said it incarcerates too many, often harms rather than rehabilitates, and treats people unequally based on race.

Demonstrators sang and chanted as a diverse group of clergy led them through streets cleared of traffic by police.

At the Justice Center complex, Jawanza Colvin, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, expressed frustration that years of discussion with political leaders about reducing incarceration rates and making law enforcement more equitable had not brought about needed change.

"After years of meeting in our churches, and meeting in our synagogues, we bring this fight to where it truly belongs: in front of this building," he said, to shouts of approval.

Other rally leaders held up a poster-sized letter to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty laying out reform demands, including doing more to keep juveniles and low-level, non-violent drug offenders out of jail with diversion and treatment programs.

"How will you ensure that regardless of a person’s background, zip code, race or gender, that when they come through these doors, they will receive equal treatment under the law?" Colvin demanded.

One marcher, Jessica Ferrato, said she’s an atheist, but shared the faith community’s concerns.

"The Tamir Rice shooting, I mean, still makes me want to cry every time I think about it. That was a 12-year-old boy. My son was 12 at the time."

Ferrato said any police procedure that could lead to an incident like that had to change.

At City Hall, the faith group unveiled another public letter, to Mayor Frank Jackson, calling on him to join with the organization and to lead other public officials in a countywide reform effort. Blaine Griffin, head of the mayor’s Community Relations Board, accepted the letter on Jackson's behalf.

The demonstrators challenged both officials to make concrete plans for broad criminal justice reform public by July deadlines. 

The rally coincidentally came on the same day that the US Justice Department unveiled its official agreement with the city of Cleveland for police reform, after its investigation found routine excessive use of force.

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