Friday, December 07, 2012

CAAO, Commerce and Cops

I am pleased to report that my stint as consulting executive director at the Consortium of African American Organizations ended, effective November 30, 2012. It was a great position from which to gain a strong sense of the pulse of the community, particularly with respect to the improving environment for minority business. In fact, I am of the opinion that prospects for a leap forward in that arena are strong.

I believe this is true for a variety of reasons. In the first place, Cleveland is becoming a community that appreciates entrepreneurship and is developing the infrastructure to nurture and support small business growth. Second, Cleveland has a growing number of talented and educated African American businessmen and women who are staking claims throughout our regional economic ecosystem. I see in place of the attitude that black people don’t merit a place at the economic table continues to recede — albeit too slowly — a growing appreciation of the fact that the success of Northeast Ohio depends on significant contributions of all sectors in our community.

This emerging and encouraging environment is due to several factors, not least of which is our community’s generational shift. That too is a slow but unmistakable and thankfully inevitable progression, and it is impacting pretty much all sectors: public, private and nonprofit. As that poet philosopher of social change, James Brown put it so memorably, “Money won’t change you, but time will take you on.”

For my part I am looking at opportunities to hasten and support these trends. I will be writing more about the evidence I see that supports the conclusions I have advanced here. But for now, take heart that things are getting better.

Except perhaps in the Cleveland Police Department. Let us hope and pray that some of the more than half of the police officers who took part in that senselesspolice pursuit of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams but didn’t fire their weapons, will come forward across that thin blue line. They should recognize that silent complicity in the rogue behavior of their colleagues stains their whole profession.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Nonprofit Thursday Spotlight on Domestic Violence

I can’t help but feel the connection between the area mother who is alleged to have killed her son Emiliano Terry and then tossed him in a dumpster and Malissa Williams, the homeless woman who died alongside Timothy Russell in the fusillade of bullets fired by police at them as if they were some modern day version of Bonnie and Clyde. Both women had been victims themselves many times before they came to our notice as a result of some incomprehensible violence.

I guess that’s why I was glad to learn that Yolanda Armstrong has, along with three of her male friends — Lamond, Lamont, and Danny — decided to establish the Dr. Tonya L. Hunter Endowment Fund for Children who Witness Violence. Hunter was a dedicated family therapist to many families in Cuyahoga County. Unfortunately, she was murdered in front of her son in a brutal act committed by his stepfather.  Tonya and Yolanda were close friends.

Yolanda is promoting a New Year’s Eve Gala, the proceeds from which will benefit the establishment of the Fund. Hunter and Armstrong were close friends.  Yolanda, who works as director of community relations at Guidestone, formerly known as Berea Children’s Home, moved to establish the Fund and persuade her employer to serve as its fiscal agent.

Prices start at $225/single or $295/couple for the affair at the Embassy Suites on Rockside Woods Boulevard in Independence. The tax-deductible event sounds like a good way to have fun and do good at the same time.

For more information: Yolanda 216.408.0071; Lamond 216.990.3701; Lamont 216.235.1598; Danny 216.370.2838.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Choices and Consequences Highlighted by Fatal Chase, Commentary

I really didn't intend to write about The Plain Dealer for a third consecutive day. I wanted to write today about something light and pleasurable, in particular some of the live music I have enjoyed lately and some performances that I look forward to hearing as we head into the holidays.

PD columnist Phillip Morris
But Phillip Morris’ column in today’s PD demands response. 

Morris apparently wants to take a balanced look at police procedures, and he approves the public stance of Cleveland’s mayor and police chief in supporting the use of independent investigators. But in asserting that the driver who led the police on a high-speed chase “is the primary reason he is dead”, Morris lets the police off the hook before a whole host of troubling questions are answered.

Timothy Russell made a decision to disobey police orders to stop. We will never know how or why he came to that choice. What we do know is that when he finally did stop — because he was trapped and had no exit — his car was shot at 137 times by more than a dozen police officers, and both he and his passenger, Malissa Williams, were killed.

Once he could no longer elude the police, was he given a chance to surrender? What precipitated the first shot[s] and all those that followed? Why did the police shooters place so little value on the lives of the car's occupants? Why didn’t the police simply lay siege to the vehicle and give the driver and/or his passenger opportunity to surrender? Why did at least some of the officers disobey clear and unequivocal orders to end their pursuit?

There was a series of decisions made by Russell and by numerous police officers that preceded and led up to the Russell and Williams’ homicides. Unless one argues that the inevitable outcome of fleeing the police is to die in a hail of bullets once you stop, then Russell’s decision to run was but one of many hasty judgments made on that fateful night.

At this juncture, it seems clear that the primary reason Russell is dead, and Williams as well, is that a heavily armed contingent of police officers shot at his car with intent to kill.

• • •

This is kind of a separate issue, but it bears addressing at this time when the future of the Plain Dealer is garnering much local and national attention. Three days ago a forum was held in the inner city to debate whether the campaign by the paper’s editorial staff to persuade the paper’s out-of-town owners to continue daily publication in print. Many of those in attendance questioned the relevance of the paper to the black community.

My view is that the whole community loses if and when the PD goes to a thrice-weekly print publication schedule. I have no idea if that means we will get more or less of Philip Morris. But this is a good time to remind the paper’s powers that be that their urban affairs columnist routinely alienates the vast majority of African Americans in this community with his views. The PD and Morris are entitled to think, write and publish as they wish — the PD buys ink by the barrel — but one cumulative consequence of so many Morris columns is to engender a widespread community feeling that the daily paper is not of, for, by, or about us.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


When I posted yesterday about speculation whether our fair city was about to become the nation’s largest municipality without a daily newspaper — many expect Advance Publications, the Plain Dealer’s corporate owner, to move sometime before June to a thrice-weekly publication schedule — I omitted to provide one of the best sources available to remain abreast of this sad saga. That would be  PD NOW WHAT, a site that Afi-Odelia Scruggs set up to report on the latest news on this topic.

Afi came to Cleveland two decades ago to write for the paper; today the talented and well-respected writer describes herself as an independent digital journalist. Yesterday she reported that the Plain Dealer is looking to reduce its newsroom by as much as one-third.

This is nearly unfathomable. And when I stop to ponder what this means for local news coverage, especially coverage of what I believe have long been underserved populations, namely working-class, inner–city, and African American communities, the picture is devastating. It gets even worse when I consider these two facts: the Plain Dealer chose some time ago to broaden its footprint by reaching out to neighboring counties: it now reports routinely on communities in Medina, Summit, Geauga, and Lorain counties. This expansion in my view has come at least partially at the expense of Glenville, Hough, Fairfax, Mt. Pleasant, Maple Heights, Warrensville Heights, East Cleveland, etc.

Secondly, this geographic expansion of its news coverage area is thinly justified by the misnamed local news coverage of Sun newspapers, a thin group of mushy and pretty much lily-white suburban weeklies that cover parts of four counties and are also owned by Advance Publications. As I have had occasion to remark many times over the last few years, the Sun chain has strategically and systematically withdrawn from virtually every community that has undergone any radical demographic change. These local papers pretty much wholly refused to report on or even acknowledge the changes and their implications. Essentially, Sun newspapers ignored the newcomers, thus giving them no reason to invest time or dollars in supporting the papers. Sun then pulled the plug on those publications, citing what else, lack of support from those same newcomers.

I could make an economic case for why Advance has essentially abandoned Euclid, Bedford Heights, Collinwood and other communities in both its daily and weekly products. But I can only imagine how ghostly the gaps in coverage will become if the Plain Dealer loses a third of a current workforce that is already strained to provide even sieve-like coverage of much of its home county. I mean, should it take thirteen copsfiring 137 shots at two people who were possibly unarmed to get Plain Dealer reporters to go into East Cleveland? [Note: the passenger's death has just been ruled a homicide.] If that scene repeats itself twelve months from now, it may be like a tree falling in a Forest City with no one around to hear.

Monday, December 03, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO FEBRUARY: Cleveland to Be Largest US city with no daily paper?

Last month we wrote here about the uncertain future of the Plain Dealer’s daily publishing schedule. 

Speculation about that future is now heating up even as the paper’s employees bask in the support of the nearly 6,000 readers who have signed their online petition in support of the PD's continued daily publication.

The paper's future is the subject of the December 2, Media Decoder column/blog in yesterday’s New York Times, which mentions that the “Save the Paper” campaign will be the subject of a party this Thursday at the Market Garden Brewery.

Last week former Plain Dealer reporter T.C. Brown, writing in the well-respected Columbia Journalism Review, examined the looming reduction of the PD’s footprint from the standpoint of its likely effect on political coverage in Ohio. While he is kindly disposed to the paper as a whole, his discussion of its owner’s track record is not reassuring to anyone who appreciates the value of a robust news organization. He makes a point of contrasting Advance Publications’s corporate preference to cut and slash staff and costs with that of billionaire folk hero Warren Buffett, who has been buying local newspapers with the intent to invest in them. Brown’s connection to the Plain Dealer helped him secure a number of interesting perspectives from the paper’s employees.

The latest publication to weigh in on the implications of the Plain Dealer’s likely shift to a three-day print schedule [Wednesday-Friday-Sunday?] is Crain's Cleveland Business. Our friend Jay Miller's front-page report, out today, considers the PD’s assumed print reduction from the standpoint of its advertisers. The headline of his article, “Ad buyers slowly see importance of daily PD wane”, unfortunately captures the way many readers feel when considering how local news coverage has been steadily diminishing.

Can you imagine the Browns finally winning the Super Bowl and the next day having to go find a copy of the Akron Beacon Journal for a hard-copy account?

Is there a bright spot in any of this? Well, The Real Deal intends to publish at least daily through the end of this year. So check back regularly even if you do not receive an advisory email from us. Of course the best way to keep abreast of our reports is to subscribe to our blog or become a follower, easy non-invasive options at an unbeatable price. See the top right of this page to make your choice.

Hope to see you back here tomorrow, at our oasis of reliable news and reasoned commentary.