Below is a link to my July 2015 PRSA Tactics story.
(BLOGGER ADDITIONAL COMMENT: This story appears in the July 2015 edition of the Public Relations Society of America publication TACTICS. There is a link to the onlne portion of the publication below. It was written before the tragic shootings in Charleston, SC, on June 17. One final note — Rev. Rodney Maiden said in his interview that there are two justice systems in the U.S. — one for whites and one for blacks. Sadly, he’s right.)
Just weeks after devastating rioting and looting in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, it became Cleveland’s turn to take center stage in the growing national debate over police treatment of blacks
In November 2012, 62 Cleveland police vehicles went on a 20-minute high-speed chase after a car whose driver disobeyed a police pullover order. The car had two black occupants. The chase ended when numerous police cruisers stopped and surrounded the car, then 13 officers fired 137 bullets at the occupants, killing both. They turned out to be unarmed. One officer, Michael Brelo, was charged with manslaughter. In a four-week bench trial, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell found Brelo not guilty, despite his firing 15 shots into both suspects from the hood of the car after the chase had ended.
National news networks broadcast the verdict live on Saturday, May 23. Anticipating violent protests after the announcement, Cleveland Police mobilized and called in back-up from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Additional safety forces were on standby.
At nearby Mt. Zion Church, 800 people of all races were attending a Northeast Ohio Gridiron Men’s Conference. When event organizers heard that the verdict announcement was imminent, they immediately suspended the program and collectively prayed for peace in Cleveland.
“It was God’s timing,” says Rev. Rodney Maiden, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church on Cleveland’s southeast side for the past 35 years. “(We) got on our knees and asked the Lord no matter what the verdict … don’t riot.”
ALL IN THE TIMING
National observers believed that by May 2015 Cleveland was trapped in race relations zugzwang, a German term meaning no matter what move the city made next, it would be worse off. Six months earlier, a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, was killed by Cleveland police officers responding to a 9-1-1 call. It turned out that Rice was wielding a toy gun. A month later, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced findings in a 21-month investigation into the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP), calling the CDP “structurally flawed.” Some of the DOJs conclusions included:
- During encounters with citizens, CDP officers frequently used excessive force;
- CDP officers were not trained properly on how to act in encounters with physically or mentally ill citizens; and
- Cleveland failed to properly investigate and discipline officers who used excessive force
Over this template came riots in Ferguson, Mo., protests in New York over the chokehold death of Eric Gardner, excessive police force resulting in deaths of blacks in other cities, and then Baltimore.
Events in late May proved that Cleveland was different. Perhaps divine intervention helped. Certainly the city and its leaders benefited from excellent public relations counsel. Additionally, timing played a role in the public reaction.
“During early discussions, a weekend morning verdict was mentioned as a potentially good time because that’s when the fewest people would be downtown,” explained Darren Toms, Community Outreach Coordinator for Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. “A work-day announcement could have led to traffic jams and additional safety concerns. We did it on Memorial Day Weekend Saturday simply because the verdict was ready, and there was no reason to prolong it for another week.”
Additionally, the court system also closely coordinated with law enforcement and safety leaders as well as the Cleveland Municipal Court, which was responsible for processing of anyone who was arrested. “Having these groups on the same page was critical in the organization and reading of the verdict,” Toms added.
Additional factors helped make May 23 an even more opportune date. School was out, helping to prevent a repeat of the teen protests seen in Baltimore. The Cleveland Cavaliers were home for the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and superstar LeBron James, who called for justice in the Eric Gardner death, used his Twitter account to plea for peace. CDP allowed peaceful protests, but eventually arrested 71 people after a couple of the protesters turned violent.
“So much time had passed that much of that anger and passion of the moment had dissipated,” said Tom Beres, senior political correspondent at WKYC-TV in Cleveland, about the Brelo verdict. “Even though Cleveland had the same potential brew of poverty, crime, hopelessness … and other conditions as a backdrop as Baltimore, the outcome was not the same outrage and violence.”
Beres added that Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson had been making extensive outreach efforts with community groups and clergy leaders such as Rev. Maiden. Street peacemaker groups also helped keep matters calm.
SETTLEMENT DECREE CHANGES THE FOCUS
Two days later, on Memorial Day, media reports circulated that the DOJ and Cleveland had reached a consent decree addressing the CDP’s many flaws. Different players now took over as the national spotlight intensified on the city.
DOJ and Cleveland held a joint news conference to announce the agreement on May 26. Here the city benefitted from experienced hands. Dan Williams, Cleveland’s Media Relations Director, is a U.S. Army public affairs veteran who helped manage the Abu Ghraib crisis in 2003-2004. Additionally, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (similar to a chamber of commerce) called upon Dix & Eaton, a leading Cleveland public relations firm, to assist the city.
In the consent decree, which Chief U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. approved on June 12, Cleveland will make substantial changes in its CDP in six major areas. Three are:
- Community engagement, including creation of a Community Police Commission to provide input on police policies, training, civilian oversight, and community engagement; and implementation of a comprehensive community and problem-oriented policing model to strengthen partnerships and solve problems;
- Search and seizure practices and bias-free policing, including revision of policies and training to ensure that all stops and searches are Constitutional and take community values into account; tracking and analysis of interactions between the police and residents; community input into comprehensive training related to bias-free policing; and development of a recruiting plan which will attract a diverse group of applicants; and
- Use of force practices, including revising policies and improving training and guidance on when and how officers may use force; strengthening systems for reviewing and investigating uses of force; and creating a Force Review Board to review serious uses of force.
City of Cleveland sources told TACTICS that, although the timing with the Brelo verdict was coincidental, Cleveland leaders worked hard to achieve a comprehensive resolution of the CDP’s numerous flaws. This began when Mayor Jackson and Chief of Police Calvin Williams, both black, held a series of highly-publicized community town hall meetings in the months after the DOJ findings against the CDP.
“Our community relations board was active connecting with many groups, all talking about the same thing at the same time,” said one Cleveland source. “There was a whole different atmosphere of two-way conversations going on, and then a lot of rolling up the sleeves and hard work to get the consent decree done.”
Dix & Eaton declined requests for interviews for this story. “The professionals in the PR community in Cleveland are very strong and tuned into the city,” said Christian Hunter, APR, President of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of PRSA. “We take a lot of pride in our city and are very vocal about issues affecting it, so it’s no surprise we come together to help each other in challenging situations.”
Beres, who’s covered politics in Cleveland for more than 30 years, gave Mayor Jackson high marks for his insistence on both dealing with the CDP’s deficiencies and quickly achieving a consent decree. “The Mayor’s outreach (efforts) also paid dividends,” Beres added. “Mayor Jackson and his team are (now) talking to a lot of people out there, and leaders are being educated on what the decree will do.”
Rev. Maiden also applauded the settlement, with one huge caveat. “What the DOJ did was unveil and reveal some things that most people in the community already knew,” he said. “A law cannot change a person’s heart, and there is a lot of skepticism in the African American community. Will the Police Department go back to business as usual, or are there going to be any major changes?”
HURDLES, WORK STILL TO DO
Cleveland’s peaceful reaction to police treatment of blacks could change. On June 11, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald B. Adrine ruled that there was probable cause to indict two CDP officers in Rice’s death. “It will almost be a slap in the face of the community if they (the courts) don’t do anything about it (the Rice shooting),” Rev. Maiden said. “African Americans believe that we have two justice systems – one for whites and one for blacks.” He added that blacks are paying rapt attention to the case, seeking justice.
Additionally, Cleveland’s public relations community has room for improvement in racial diversity. A majority of the city’s population is black, but none of the Dix & Eaton personnel assisting the city with communications on the dissent decree were minorities. A quick survey of the area’s leading public relations firms found very little diversity among their employees.
“When thinking about what it takes to have a robust, well-rounded team, PR chapters should include points of view with a diverse perspective, “ says Larcine Bland, a diversity management consultant with Texas-based LLB Consulting. Bland has worked for and helped to shape diversity initiatives for national retailers such as Dunkin’ Brands and 7-Eleven.
Bland adds PR firms and PR chapters should embrace diversity as an important value-added component, make diversity and inclusion top-down strategies, be intentional about inclusion, and build community contacts and diversity liaisons.
Link to Tactics: PRSA Tactics
Link to USPR Network, of which Larcine Bland and I are members: USPR Network
Kerezy is associate professor of journalism/mass communications at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. He is also director of crisis, governmental & political communications for the Unified Strategies Public Relations Network.
Many observers around the country thought there would be riots, perhaps even violence, in Cleveland when Cuyahoga County Common Please Court Judge John P. O’Donnell announced a verdict of “not guilty” in the trial of Cleveland Police Dept. Officer Michael Brelo on May 23. The verdict was the latest in a string of acquittals of white police officers on trial for shooting African-Americans.
The violence didn’t happen. Those who thought otherwise don’t know Cleveland.
Just two days after that, word began spreading that the U.S. Dept. of Justice had reached a consent decree with the City of Cleveland to end a pattern of excessive violence and depriving Cleveland citizens of their Constitutional rights.
How did all this unfold?
For the past dozen years of so, I’ve been fortunate to be selected to write stories for two main publications for the Public Relations Society of America, TACTICS and THE STRATEGIST. Below are links to information about these publications.
My story about how Cleveland kept the peace will appear in the July issue of TACTICS. It will also appear here. But the article would have been impossible without the help of two long-time men of excellent character and integrity who assisted me via interviews, Rev. Rodney Maiden of Providence Baptist Church and Tom Beres of WKYC Channel 3 News.
Both came their current positions more than 35 years ago. Both have overcome some daunting personal obstacles.
Rev. Maiden has mentored and helped prepare more than a dozen of the leading African-American ministers in Greater Cleveland since he became pastor at Providence Baptist Church in 1980. Dennis Kucinich was striving to stave off a recall challenge when Tom Beres began reporting at WKYC in 1979.
Their interviews provided key information for the story. Below are links to the digital audio interviews, podcasts, of both of them. If you want to “hear” the story of how Cleveland kept the peace, in their own words, you can do so here. Right-click on the link below, and then click on “Open in New Window” to download and hear the files. (You do not need to belong to Amazon to obtain and hear the interviews.)
My thanks also to Darren Toms of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, and others who assisted me with the story.
Special thanks to Christian Hunter, Greater Cleveland PRSA Chapter President, and long-time acquaintances Rick Batyko of Team NEO and Larcine Bland for their help.
Lately it seems that you can’t drive very far in Broadview Heights without seeing a bulldozer at work or a foundation being poured. There’s a good reason why: More than $60 million in new construction (non residential) and at least 10 different projects are underway in Broadview Heights.
Here’s a quick rundown, in words and pictures, of some of the developments. This isn’t comprehensive – it’s just what one person found out by using a smartphone, the Internet, and through some emails.
Contractors for University Hospitals’ new 52,000 square feet outpatient health center and freestanding emergency department are still putting up steel girders. This facility, valued at $28 million, is at the northeast corner of Interstate 77 and Royalton Road, adjacent to the Heritage office building. You can see it as you enter I-77 Northbound. This health facility should bring a lot of new jobs to Broadview Heights as well. Here’s the link to a news article about it:
NOTE – Just east of Bob Evans, construction is underway on an extension of Treeworth Blvd which will provide access to a similar medical facility which MetroHealth Medical Center is constructing in Brecksville, just below the southwest corner of Interstate 77 and Royalton Road.
More than $1 million went into the construction of these two new restaurants on Royalton Road. Bob Evans has been open since March, with Chipotle opening its doors in late May. The parking lots seems always full, especially at the lunch and dinner hours. Don’t be surprised if a third restaurant finds its way here also – there’s a vacant spot next to the Chipotle.
Petros is constructing new homes in three locations in Broadview Heights. This is a picture of the model home in Town Centre Village, just east of Broadview Road and just south of Royalton Road. Below is a link to their web site with details.
Additionally, Petros also has new home construction at Wiltshire (off Edgerton Road) and at Bella Terra off Wallings Road. Petros Homes’ headquarters is also in Broadview Heights, by the way.
When completed later this year, Danbury Woods senior living will be a 101-unit complex 90,000 square feet with a mixture of independent living, assisted living, and memory care. This is a project costing nearly $13 million. The two-story, V-shaped building takes up about six acres at the corner of Broadview and Akins Roads. Here is a link with more information:
With its headquarters in Broadview Heights Ohio Caterpillar is the factory-authorized Caterpillar dealer for the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. It has more than 1,100 employees at its various facilities. Ohio Cat is in Phase II of the expansion of its corporate headquarters at Royalton Road and Taylor Avenue, a project costing $17.8 million.
Here are more details:
CUYAHOGA COUNTY EOC FACILITY
Work is in the preliminary stages behind City Hall, but by sometime in 2016 Cuyahoga County will have a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC) behind City Hall. Here’s a recent site picture.
According to Cuyahoga County officials, this facility will feature an EOC floor with extensive communications and information display capabilities; a multi-position communications center for the county’s emergency communications system (known as CECOMS), which can also serve as a regional dispatch center; a Joint Information Center; officers for the County Office of Emergency Management; a training room; and a storage and maintenance facility. Here is a link to a Cuyahoga County web site with more details:
785 E. ROYALTON ROAD
Jeffrey Halpert, DPM, and his partners are apparently planning to move their Podiatry of Greater Cleveland practice and offices down a bit on Royalton Road to a new office building, just east of Stoney Run condominiums. This building has a construction cost of about $500,000. Here’s a link to some information:
COMMUNITY OF HOPE CHURCH
This church, which has met at Blossom Hill in Brecksville for the past 19 years, plans to build an 11,160 square foot sanctuary and classrooms on the south side of Royalton Road, just west of Dunkin Donuts. Construction is estimated at $1 million. The sanctuary will seat 250 people. Community of Hope owns 13 acres at this location. The new church building is expected to open in 2016. Here’s a link to the story:
Twice in the last 19 months, friends and acquaintances have asked me to make presentations about the media at Cuyahoga Community College. The first presentation, in Fall 2013, regarded media coverage about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Back then, almost no one in the United States had heard of ISIS.
Many of our main media outlets are more concerned about profits and ratings than providing in-depth news and analysis about matters of national and global concern. So, as Syria’s civil war goes on and ISIS becomes a major threat to peace, Americans are pretty ignorant about it.
One of these days I will post all four of my “Timeless Truths” about the mass media in a blog. Suffice to say, students in my JMC 1011 Intro to Mass Communication classes learn these truths and gain a much greater appreciation that way of how the media functions. But Timeless Truth Number 1 is simple enough for everyone to get: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS.
But I digress.
About 10 days ago, I was privileged to be a speaker for “Culture Shock” a terrific annual program presented at Cuyahoga Community College’s West Campus. The event is part of the college’s very important Diversity Series. This particular time, I was fortunate to have a co-presenter with me, Shamina Merchant, who’s a senior at Brecksville Broadview-Heights High School.
Shamina Merchant with me at Culture Shock 2015
Shamina spoke on the Muslim faith, and gave an excellent summary of some tenets of it.
My role was to present information on our mainstream media, and how it mis-characterizes Muslims and the Middle East in general. (Confession: due to my recent eye surgery, I didn’t research this talk as much as I had for the Syria talk in Fall 2013.).
It is gratifying to make these presentations, and I’m glad that students and adults believe the talks and explanations shed a lot of light on why the U.S. media does such a poor job covering Muslims, the Middle East, etc.
Below I’ve uploaded and created links to my 2015 presentation, to Shamina’s presentation, and to my 2013 presentation about Syria. Feel free to download and take a look. I’m grateful to my long-time friend Pierre Bejjani and the non-profit, non-partisan organization CAMEO, to Shamina Merchant and her family, to Isam Zaiem and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and of course to my friend and colleague Dr. Susan Lohwater at Cuyahoga Community College for encouraging me to make these presentations.
Our beliefs are not the same, but we all share a dislike for those who hate and we have a longing to replace ignorance with information and understanding. That’s needed more than ever in 2015.
If you wish to speak further with me about this topic, don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com
SOME OTHER LINKS ON THIS SUBJECT:
My 2013 presentation on Syria syria
Shamina’s presentation on April 9 Misunderstandings
My presentation on April 9 misunderstand muslims
ON DECK: Matt Lupica and inside Major League Baseball.
John’s note — Julia Romito submitted this story to her JMC 26001 Multimedia Newswriting class in the Fall 2014 semester. I am posting it here on my blog with her permission.
Hormones, relationships, and homework cause high school to be a difficult time of every teenager’s life, but imagine how unbearable it becomes when a high school student also has to cope with the death of a close friend.
Suicide, cancer and car accidents are all in the top five causes of death in young people. Different people deal with death in different ways, but everyone goes through the grieving process.
Laura Serazin, a grief counselor at the Cornerstone of Hope in Cleveland, OH, stated that the grieving process is divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“Grief is the hardest work anyone will ever do,” said Serazin.
Serazin explained that, in her experience, her patients deny that the deceased is gone, become angry that he or she was taken from them, grow depressed and then eventually learn to live with the fact that the departed is gone forever.
“In reality, everyone’s grief is unique and everyone slips back and forth between the stages,” said Serazin.
Serazin also stated that adults and teens grieve differently, and she later added that teens grieve in doses. She said: “Their ability to tolerate intense emotion is more limited, so they need to shut down their emotions. You may see them very upset one minute, and then, laughing or playing a little while later.”
Anthony Gill, 17, committed suicide on January 13, 2014. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people 15 to 24 years old, and results in approximately 4,600 deaths each year.
AnnaMarie Romito was friends with Gill since they were babies, and he was like a brother to her. Romito was dazed and wretched when she heard the news of his death.
“I immediately fell to the ground and couldn’t breathe, and I was screaming [and] crying,” said Romito.
Romito added that the most difficult part about losing Gill was not being able to talk to him anymore because he always helped her with her problems.
“Sometimes I feel like it still hasn’t hit me that he’s actually gone, and I still don’t want to accept the fact that he’s not here,” said Romito, indicating that she is still in denial regarding Gill’s death.
Cora Flemming, 18, died of osteosarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer, on May 5, 2013. Each year, approximately 800 new cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed in the United States, and half of those cases are in children and teens.
Alex Cameron was friends with Flemming before and throughout her nine-month battle with the deadly disease, and he recalled that it was very emotional.
“I called [my friend] Haley and she told me that she [Cora] had died, and I just instantly started crying and hung up on her right away,” said Cameron.
Cameron later added that Flemming was positive about her cancer, and she did not feel she was going to die, which made losing her harder.
“I truly believed it was going to be fine because she believed that it was going to be fine,” said Cameron.
Cameron also mentioned that he has accepted Flemming’s death over the past year and a half. He said, “I just think that death is a really hard thing to accept, and it just takes time.”
Jeff Chaya, 18, was killed in a car accident along with three other teens on June 3, 2012. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, there are over 6,400 people 15 to 20 years old that are killed in car accidents every year.
Sobhit Haribhakti was friends with Chaya throughout all four years of high school, and he was in utter disbelief and devastation when he heard the news of Chaya’s death.
“I ran downstairs and started crying and yelling and screaming. It was one of the worst moments of my life,” recalled Haribhakti, with tears in his eyes.
Haribhakti also added that the hardest part about Chaya’s death was the untimeliness. He said, “I don’t think anyone should have to lose someone so close to them so early in their lives…He’s in a better place.”
Over the past two years, Haribhakti has come to accept Chaya’s death, but it was not an easy process. Haribhakti suffered through depression his first year of college, but he eventually overcame the sadness with the help of his friends and family.
“I can still hear his voice in my head, [and] all the memories are still living in my mind,” said Haribhakti.
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