Downtown Councilman: Cleveland Was 'Overwhelmed' By Violent Protests

Boards of plywood cover shattered windows of the pHuel Cafe in Cleveland's Playhouse Square on June 1, 2020.
A pile of shattered glass lies underneath two plywood-covered windows of the pHuel Cafe in Cleveland's Playhouse Square on June 1, 2020, following violent protests two days earlier over the police-involved death of George Floyd. [Amy Eddings / ideastream]
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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has extended the curfew in Downtown Cleveland until 8 p.m. June 2. It was set to expire Monday at 8 a.m., but Sunday night, the mayor issued the extension. He also expanded the curfew zone to include the Market District on Cleveland’s Near West Side. No vehicles or pedestrians are permitted in these areas. Ward 3 Cleveland City Councilman Kerry McCormack represents the Downtown, Ohio City and Tremont neighborhoods.

Do you think this was a wise move, this extension of the curfew? There’s a lot of confusion about how people can get into Downtown, into their jobs. Traffic was bottlenecked this morning at police checkpoints.

Let me first say that I stand with the peaceful demonstrators who are angry and, quite frankly, exhausted with the death and killing of black folks across our country. So, just to start with that. Regarding the curfew, right now, unfortunately, there’s very little information about the specifics of how people can get around and exactly how we can access things like our grocery stores and what is the general guidelines to the public. Right now I think there’s a lot of confusion around it, and that’s quite frustrating. [McCormack later tweeted more details. "Just spoke to the Chief of Police," he wrote. "All businesses and offices in the affected areas are to be closed. This includes downtown office buildings. Employees of closed offices should not try to come downtown."]




Have you received any sort of assessment from Mayor Jackson, civic associations or residents about the extent of the damage?

I actually walked downtown for a few hours yesterday talking to residents and to business owners. There was significant damage in Downtown Cleveland. Just as we stand with our peaceful protesters, we also can’t tolerate the mass destruction that we saw in Downtown Cleveland after the peaceful demonstration. The damage was significant, but the good thing is that the folks in Downtown, our residents, our business owners, really rallied together to help clean up and to board and secure the neighborhood.

The protests, as you mentioned, started off peacefully. It appeared to turn violent when it moved to the Justice Center, the home of the Cleveland Police Department, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office, the county jail and the county's court. How do you rate the city’s response to the unrest?

Historically, the city has done a really good job at maintaining peaceful demonstrations and showing restraint. I think, though, that with the most recent demonstration that there’s a lot to learn on what went wrong and what could have been done better. I think, quite frankly, the city was not as well-prepared or positioned during this demonstration. Clearly, the forces on the ground got overwhelmed. So I’m not going to judge folks who were on the ground and how they responded to it. I will say that clearly, if you look at Downtown Cleveland — and again, I walked the entire area, talking to residents and businesses — there is a feeling that not enough was done to protect the residential areas as well as some of the businesses in the area. How unfortunate it was that we had a peaceful demonstration that is needed, that I fully support, and that the vast majority of those folks were there to stand up against the injustices that are going on across America and a small percentage of either that group or folks that came in caused the damage. It’s really unfortunate.

You’ve been hearing from your constituents. What do you think the city can do, going forward, to address the hurt, frustration and despair that prompted these demonstrations?

We actually introduced a piece of legislation in March declaring racism as a public health crisis which we will be debating today in our Health and Human Services Committee. People of all different backgrounds have to have conversations in our households and work to change hearts and minds across America when it comes to the real pain being felt by communities of color. It’s gotta start at home. And we also have to look at practices in which we can implement across the city and the country to alleviate these issues, whether it be redlining or infant mortality or all the other issues that are seen through the lens of systemic racism. We’ve got to take those on as a community so that we’re fighting back against systemic racism.

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