45 YEARS AGO BUT SOMEHOW TODAY
It hardly seems possible but the Glenville Shootout - as it became known - happened 45 years ago July 23, 1968.
It was a disastrous time for Cleveland, an unnecessary gun battle between black militants and Cleveland police. It followed a peaceful Cleveland after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4th.
Cleveland had remained calm in April after King's assassination. Mayor Carl Stokes and other black leaders, including Browns football players, walked the city's streets to keep peace. Many other U. S. cities suffered rioting and bloodshed.
The community enjoyed the "progress" of race relations that peaceful April night. It was dashed by the Glenville Shootout three months later. Seven were killed, including three police officers. Many were wounded and much destruction occurred.
The hope of racial peace via the election of a black mayor was dashed. The community response lacked understanding.
The Plain Dealer rushed to judgment referring to the gun battle as an "ambush" and "massacre." Of police. These descriptions were determined faulty even by PD reporters in a subsequent exam (though never published), and by the results of a very similar probe by the New York Times, and other professional studies.
The Times sent a team of reporters to Cleveland to examine the shootout. It concluded: "The Cleveland explosion has been called both an ambush of police and an armed uprising by Negroes. However, the weight of evidence indicates that it was closer to spontaneous combustion."
That was the same conclusion of the team of PD reporters. Editors, however, refused to publish what its reporters found. It also ignored the New York Times story by not running its front page article.
Whether it would have had an impact on Clevelanders and race relations we would never know. Police-community relations suffered. Recent events show they still do.
The upshot of this tragic event marred the effect of the election of Stokes as the first black mayor of a big American city. It destroyed police-city hall relations, already frayed. Stokes, realizing the bitter racial situation, pulled white police officers from black areas of the city. This further embittered Cleveland police.
Two incidents from the aftermath of the Glenville Shootout provide some insight to the tragic time for Cleveland.
The first involved a young black man, James Earl Chapman. In the first flush of news the 22-year old Chapman, killed in the shootout, was proclaimed a "hero" who tried to protect white police officers. His death was blamed on snipers, thus suggesting Black Nationalists killed him.
I got a tip at that time that Chapman's official autopsy would tell a different story of his death.
Death, according to Coroner Sam Gerber, was the result "... of gunshot wound sustained when shot by a sniper during racial disturbances and was homicidal in nature."
The report should not have stopped there. His own office's autopsy suggested differently.
Gerber failed to mention that the autopsy revealed gun powder burns on Chapman's head.
I wrote at the time: "The inconsistency between the finding of powder burn(s) and the verdict of a sniper shot was confirmed by a researcher's interview with a well-known forensic pathologist, a medical physician with special expertise in the legal aspects of medicine."
Indeed, in court later, Dr. Cyril Wecht, a respected forensic pathologist and former coroner, testified about the powder burns and that Chapman had to have been killed by close range, not a sniper.
Both the Cleveland Press and Plain Dealer in news accounts had proclaimed Chapman a "hero" for helping rescue a Cleveland police officer. Not everyone believed that version. The Call & Post questioned the reports in an article, "Who killed James Chapman?" It stated: "The circumstances surrounding his death are very mysterious and subject to much speculation."
The autopsy report I obtained indicated, as was later testified in court, that he was killed by a weapon some 18 inches from his head. It thus couldn't have been a sniper shot from a distance. Since he was with Cleveland police officers the conclusion suggests he was killed by police.
The Glenville gun battle took place around E. 123rd Street and Lakeview Road.
In a report in 2010, a police officer who was with Chapman quoted said that Chapman had been with him and was shot, as he was, by black nationalists. See WKYC report: http://www.wkyc.com/news/story.aspx?storyid=141206
The second case involved a photographer assigned by national NBC-TV to cover the conflict. His testimony is as disturbing today as it was 45 years ago. An immigrant from Eastern Europe (Hungary) he was especially shocked by his Cleveland experience.
He was filming police at E. 105th street. For filming police actions he was severely beaten on the street and later at a police station.
He observed and filmed police pushing citizens against the wall.
"Pushing aggressively with their hands, very powerful. I never see this before, using the rifle, pushing people, holding the rifle and pushing people," he said, when questioned by the FBI.
Then Julius Boros got jumped. "Okay, when this guy jump on me and he (threw) the camera away, the way he jumped on me, I went down, halfway on my knees because, you know, and as soon as he threw the camera I seen more police running there, maybe five or six, and really started kicking me and using the sticks and rifles and the end of the rifles and hitting me, and it was then I felt the first time that I would pass out because it came very fast and very strong right on my body."
"... That's when I finally - I went down once and I tried to stand up and they were all swearing at me, and they started...hitting my face very badly with their fists, you know, punching me all over."
During his testimony Boros said he hit the ground a second time. He felt, he said, he would pass out, adding, "That's when I was really, you know, losing my power..."
He was asked if he were fighting back.
"No, because I still don't believe that police are hitting me, you know, first I think it's unbelievable. It's right that I can see it, but I said to myself, I did nothing; why are they kicking me and why are they hitting me... I was afraid to die from the beating..."
He was then dragged behind a police car, he said.
"That is when I really got it; it was the third time... They really jumped me. That's when a large amount, not six - I bet it was a dozen policemen on me, and hitting me and I went down... on the street, the same thing was going on - like a ball, pull me to one side, hit me, another guy hit me, pull me, and, you know, not just one pull me but a dozen hit me." He told his questioner that they were all white police. "I should emphasis all white policemen," he said.
He said he screamed "God, help me, please. Please help me."
Boros said he saw a fellow photographer also being beaten. Looking at each other, one said, "Jules" to Boros, "and I said, 'Charlie.' (Charlie Ray).
"That was the one word I could say," said Boros, who continued: "... that was when I was sure I will die, because I have the feeling if one will grab me and hit my head down, that's it."
His torture didn't end there.
It continued at the police station when he was booked. Boros said:
"I think that's when I got another rib broken. Because that's when one guy, when they were fingerprinting me, I tried to look back because I was scared to death, this cop's behind me and he said, 'Don't look here,' you know, 'why are you looking here?', you know, and I just looked back and one guy just (hit) that side right here. That's when I'm sure he broke one of his ribs with a rifle and all the power, you know, right on my side... I screamed, oh, I screamed. I said, 'Please help me. Don't kill me here.'"
Boros had blood in his kidneys and cracked ribs. The police at the station were also lighting matches and tossing them into Boros's face during his booking.
This violent urban episode ended, although Stokes was re-elected, the great opportunity that Cleveland had to mark itself as a racially-advanced city of the future. As a 1967 ad placed by business leaders in the Wall Street Journal crowed about Stokes's election, an old blue chip city with bright new leadership.
Cleveland police reaction in the late 1960s reminds me of Republican/conservative obstruction acts to President Barack Obama now. Chapman's death aligns with Trayvon Martin's demise.
There has been progress for blacks since the 1960s but also disheartening reminders, as the city's 137-bullet killing of two unarmed blacks in the police chase, mirroring some of the remaining racial bitterness, attests 45 years later.