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Cleveland councilman: 'This isn't Syria. These are the streets of Cleveland'

Posted at 5:47 PM, Dec 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-20 18:50:05-05

After a brazen shootout on Cleveland’s east side — the latest in a string of high-profile incidents — Councilman Mike Polensek is calling on Mayor Frank Jackson to request assistance from the state.

In a letter that he hand-delivered to the mayor’s office on Wednesday, Polensek implored Jackson to seek help from the governor and attorney general who could provide highway patrol officers to supplement the city police department in crime-ridden neighborhoods.Polensek also asked Mayor Jackson to declare a state of emergency.

“This isn’t Afghanistan. This isn’t Syria. These are the streets of Cleveland,” Polensek said. “I’ll tell you this: ‘It is what it is’ ain’t working anymore. I want to say it again: ‘it is what it is' ain’t working [anymore]. That might hold true in some neighborhoods, but in mine, it doesn’t.”

Polensek’s request comes less than a day after a brazen shootout at a gas station near East 156th Street and Waterloo. The gunfire erupted shortly before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, which resulted in two men being wounded. One of the victims was shot four times, according to police. Polensek said a seven-year-old girl was grazed by a bullet, which came within centimeters of seriously injuring or killing her.

“To watch that (surveillance) video, it was pure insanity,” Polensek said. “This case is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.”

Last week, a Catholic priest at Polensek’s home church was the victim of an armed robbery and shooting. Two teenage boys attempted to rob Father John Kumse when the longtime catholic priest tried to run away. One of the teens fired three shots. Luckily, Kumse was not injured. The teenagers were arrested a short time later.

Four teens charged for robbing and shooting at priest, two had previous criminal records

Cuyahoga County prosecutor: 'Our community is under siege by juvenile violence'

The number of homicides in Cleveland is also nearing 2016’s high-water mark.

“How many more innocent people are going to be hurt in this town before the message is sent?” Polensek asked. “You know what, the gangbangers, the shooters, we’re coming after you. We’re coming after you.”

Many living in the Collinwood neighborhood live in fear, one neighbor said. The neighbor requested that his name not be used because he worries about retribution to him and his family.

“You worry about your children and your family. Your friends won’t come in the neighborhood. My family won’t come in the neighborhood. They say, how can you live there because of all the crime? Its hard to deal with,” the neighbor said. “It’s the wild, wild west. It really is. Everybody has guns, everybody is ready to get violent right away.”

The neighbor said he has lived in the area for more than three decades. The past two or three years have become especially violent, he said. Property crimes, including burglaries and auto thefts, have also increased, he said.

He himself has been a victim. His house was recently burglarized.

“The more help that they would send into the community, would be helpful. Anything. The police, it’s not that they are short-handed, it’s that they have a lot of work to begin with,” the neighbor said. “The police probably have their hands tied with all of the other work that they are doing. They don’t have enough help. If the idea is to bring in more help and I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

Polensek’s request comes on the heels of the conclusion of a massive recruiting blitz put on the police department. As many as 250 police officers will be hired and trained in the coming months. As of Nov. 30, more than 740 people applied, which surpassed the city’s goal, according to the spokesman for Mayor Jackson.

However, those new recruits will not be fully trained and ready to hit the streets for another several months. Polensek said state troopers could help provide assistance until the recruiting class is ready.

“I grew up in Cleveland. What is taking place on our streets is unacceptable. Unacceptable,” Polensek said. “Let’s recognize that and work together to address it.”