Demonstrators flooded the streets of downtown Cleveland Saturday night to protest the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a Cleveland police officer who was charged in the 2012 shooting deaths of African-American couple Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. The Cleveland couple were fatally wounded after Brelo allegedly climbed onto the hood of the car and fired at least 15 shots at the couple. The 31-year-old officer, who is white, was cleared of manslaughter on Saturday. In the aftermath, Cleveland residents took to the streets, much like the protests that followed the non-indictments of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and Officer Daniel Pantaleo in New York City late last year.
"The majority of the protesters and the protest activity yesterday remained peaceful," Police Chief Calvin D. Williams said at a news conference Sunday morning. "We made sure that we allowed people to express their First Amendment rights ... [and] their anger and frustration about the events that have unfolded here in this city and across the country."
Williams said the demonstrations grew slightly more "aggressive" later in afternoon on Saturday, with people blocking a major thoroughfare. "We would not allow people to commit acts of violence against property or persons," Williams said.
The police chief said approximately 71 people were arrested on Saturday, most of which were made after the protests turned "violent" and many other demonstrators refused to disperse later in the day. The Cleveland Police Department confirmed on Twitter that three people were arrested for aggravated riot, felonious assault and obstructing justice.
Williams added during Sunday's morning news conference that one of the protesters arrested for assault allegedly picked up a restaurant sign on East 4th Street, threw it, and hit a restaurant patron in the head. The patron was injured in the assault, Williams and the police department both confirmed Sunday.
Still, most of the protests that occurred Saturday were peaceful, the police chief said. He added that the police department would of course honor lawful protesting, and that police officers won't be in riot gear unless it's "appropriate" for the situation.
Mayor Frank Jackson, who said on Saturday that this was Cleveland's "defining moment," remained optimistic Sunday morning. "Come into downtown Cleveland, come into our neighborhoods. Enjoy yourself," Jackson said during Sunday morning's news conference.
"We will show the nation that peaceful demonstrations and dialogue are the right direction as we move forward," the mayor said on Saturday, as protests were just beginning in the populous Ohio city.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers — known as "King James" in his native Ohio — told reporters on Saturday that he feels the pain of his city and its residents. The star athlete urged for nonviolence as the city moves forward:
Violence is not the answer, and it's all about trying to find a solution. In any case, anything that goes on in our world, the only people we should be worried about is the families that's lost loved ones. You can't get them back. You can never get them back. We should worry about the families and how they're doing and things of that nature.
Police Chief Williams said Sunday that there will be increased police activity outside the Cavaliers game later that night. However, the officers will not wear riot gear, and will be there to escort the demonstrators.
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