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Cleveland Officials: July 4th Violence Driven In Part By Pandemic

Cleveland officials say the spike in violent crime over the July 4 holiday weekend coincides with a larger trend during the pandemic. [aaron_anderer / Creative Commons]
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Cleveland officials are investigating more than two dozen violent incidents that took place during the holiday weekend. Officials say the spike in crime reflects larger trends nationwide, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Violence during the weekend included stabbings and shootings, said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams, as well as four homicides.

The city normally sees a spike in violence over holiday weekends, Williams said, and this year it’s compounded by the already higher rates brought about since late February and early March.

“When businesses started to have a lot of people work from home, we saw an increase in violent crime,” he said

The city also received nearly 700 complaints about fireworks use over the weekend, he said, which is also up from last year.

Williams could not provide an exact number of arrests over the weekend. Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) is asking anyone with information on violent incidents from the weekend to contact the department.

“The things that have happened in Cleveland this past weekend are kind of synonymous with things that are happening around the country,” Williams said.

The increase in crime is reflective of underlying issues that need to be addressed, said Mayor Frank Jackson.

“Just like racism is a public health issue, so is those things that produce crime and violence are public health issues, and we need to address it that way,” Jackson said.

The city will be announcing measures to assist in investigating and mitigating violent crime at some point in the next month, Williams said.

The coronavirus pandemic and other pressures are causing violence to “erupt in our neighborhoods,” said Myesha Crowe, interim executive director of the violence intervention group Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance.

“Other major cities have also seen an increase in violence over this weekend,” said Crowe. “Cleveland, Atlanta, Detroit, all have very extreme cases of violence. And I think most of this is due to the new normal of COVID.”

The Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance will continue to use their “boots on the ground” approach in communities where “the violence is,” Crowe said. But the Peacemakers will be able to do more once coronavirus-related restrictions ease, she said.

“Once everything is clear for us to continue to do the work that we know how to do, we'll be able to respond with more solutions for all of these problems that communities are facing," Crowe said.

The city also provided an update on Jackson's mask mandate issued Friday. Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced he is requiring masks in public in the counties rated  red or purple under the new statewide coronavirus alert system, including Cuyahoga.

The city will work with the state to ensure enforcement of its mandate is in line with DeWine’s orders, Jackson said, including whether penalties for violating the mandate are civil or criminal.

“That will help us to combine whatever he’s talking about with whatever orders we have issued,” Jackson said. “And that will give us a better sense of, how do we enforce that?”

Cleveland City Council will consider possible enforcement measures July 15. Police will be enforcing the mask mandate, Jackson said, even as they handle the increase in crime.

“It is demanding, but we are responsible to do some things at this point in time that requires us to try to stymie this pandemic,” Jackson said.

May 30 Protest Review

CDP is also conducting a review of the incidents of a May 30 protest against police brutality that led to violence.

Chief Williams responded to recent reports alleging discrepancies between his and Cuyahoga County Sheriff David Schilling’s statements on a possible breach of the Downtown Justice Center.

“I don’t lie. I don’t have the need to lie,” Williams said. “Any statement I give is based on the information I have at the time.”

Mayor Jackson echoed Williams’ sentiments.

“The chief is not a liar,” Jackson said. “The sheriff is not a liar. The facts will present themselves, and wherever the facts lead, they lead.”

Once the CDP review of the protest concludes, the department will create an after-action report to be made public.