It’ll be 10 years this November since the tragic deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Their murders at the hands of police still resonate in Cleveland, and filmmaker Michael Milano has a lot to do with that.
On February 23, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law held an hour-long panel with Clevelander Michael Milano, the director of the Netflix documentary “137 Shots”, for the launch of their Social Justice Film Series.
The film chronicles the 2012 police chase that began in downtown Cleveland after the backfiring of Russell’s car was mistaken for gunfire near the Justice Center. The chase involved more than 60 officers and ended in East Cleveland with the fatal shooting of Russell and Williams in the parking lot of W.H. Kirk Middle School – then known as Heritage Middle School.
Three years after the incident, Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo and five other officers were fired for their roles in the shooting. Brelo was later acquitted of all criminal charges. The other officers were reinstated to their positions.
Released in December 2021, the film has been seen in 195 countries to date, according to Milano. Panelists at the social justice series included Damian Eduardos, a producer who also served as director of photography on the documentary; Jackie Russell, sister-in-law of Timothy Russell; and Alonzo Mitchell, co-host of the WTAM radio show “The Forum” with Mansfield Frazier.
Frazier, who had a prominent role in the documentary, died at the age of 78 in October of 2021. He was a longtime advocate of the community. Frazier owned the winery Chateau Hough, where he employed people who had been incarcerated. He was also a journalist and a mentor.
Milano and Eduardos see this film as a proponent of change.
“To quote Mansfield, the film is the tip of the sphere to bring about change and that was certainly the point: to bring awareness,” said Milano. “And all of the various cities that have pending consent decrees, or are thinking about police reform, there’s a million different ripples that cause change, and I hope this is one of the stronger ones.”
After a 2014 investigation that lasted 21 months, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that Cleveland Police violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law. DOJ found that Cleveland Police had “a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” The City of Cleveland and the DOJ entered into a Consent Decree, which is an agreement that the police would make changes to their policies and procedures to address the violations.
Issue 24 also passed in November 2021 in order to form a nine-member civilian police review board when there are issues of conduct. The civilian board would also be allowed to review the discipline of police officers.
Eduardos said people need to take a stand. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when this movie came out. There was some trepidation. We wondered if we would have targets on our backs because of the loyalty police officers have with each other. And if that’s the case, then that’s the case, because this can’t keep happening,” he said.
Eduardos informed the audience that his aunt, a Cleveland police officer for 27 years, took early retirement soon after the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice “because of the magnitude of what was happening with the police.”
Several of the approximately 100 audience members mentioned losing family members at the hands of the police. Jackie Russell said the Russell family was almost relieved after seeing the film because it told the facts and humanized Russell to viewers. “Tim was more than just the person driving a car that didn’t stop. They now know more about him and his family, and that he was loved.”
Born and raised in East Cleveland, Nate Paige has contributed more than 25 years to local journalism. He got his professional start at the Cleveland Call & Post and would later get his foot in the door at Cleveland.com as a copy editor. While there, he held a number of positions including entertainment reporter, community editor, hyperlocal producer, and social media coordinator. He currently handles social media for the city of Shaker Heights.
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