CLEVELAND (FinalCall.com) – The victory of the Cleveland Seven in court October 15, when Judge Mabel Jasper dropped all charges of kidnapping, burglary and assault, was overshadowed the next day when police found the body of Shakira Johnson in a field.
The men were arrested after they completed a community search for 11-year-old Shakira, who went missing after a Sept. 13 neighborhood block party. They faced felony charges that carried sentences of eight to 25 years.
“Allah (God) knew the truth, the people knew the truth and the government knew the truth about this case,” said Richard Muhammad, one of the Cleveland Seven and local minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 18. “We’re not criminals. We were trying to find our lost daughter at the request of her parents. The police knew we were innocent all along.”
Judge Jasper dismissed the case because the police had insufficient evidence and the witnesses recanted their statements.
“Justice delayed is justice denied according to Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Attorney Ricardo Teamore, who represented community activist Khalid Samad, another of the Cleveland Seven. “Ultimately, the right thing was done, but it doesn’t undo the harm that was done.”
The names and photos of innocent men were broadcasted on the evening news and printed in Cleveland newspapers.
“With the same vigilance that you used in telling people that we were arrested, please be similarly aggressive in publishing the truth that we are innocent,” urged Min. Richard.
The sweet taste of victory soon turned sour the next day when an anonymous tip led police to a partially decomposed female body in a field two miles from Shakira’s home.
Coroner Elizabeth Balraj identified the body Oct. 20, after DNA testing.
Although the community rallied behind the Cleveland Seven in protest of their arrest and jammed the courtroom on the opening day of the trial, the Cleveland Seven wanted the focus to remain on finding Shakira Johnson.
“I believe an investigation has to take place. We need to ask some very serious questions about this case. Why was she just found?” said Min. Muhammad.
“Now, we have to rally around this family. We must give them all the love and support we can,” he added. “We have to make our sister’s life and her death mean something. Our teacher (the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan) teaches that death always serves a higher purpose. Her passing has brought this community together like nothing else before.”
The field where the body was found has become a memorial to a lost little girl. “May God hold this baby angel in his loving arms forever. And may justice be swift, so this child of God may rest in peace,” read a handmade poster at the site. It was signed “Love, the Neighborhood.”
“It was a personal effort to find this girl,” said community activist Khalid Samad. “We are grieving over her loss. It is imperative that we have public and private efforts for community policing.”
What started with a community search unified that community and sparked a continuing collaboration between Muslims and Christians.
“We were all Muslims that were charged and arrested. Christians that worked shoulder-to-shoulder with us were not arrested. Once the incident began to manifest itself, we saw what was going on,” said Mr. Samad. “No one is going to disrupt the unity that we have built with our brothers.”
Ralph Randle offered thanks to the community that searched for his step-daughter and now mourned with his family. He’s confident that the person responsible will be caught. “I have no doubt, no doubt,” he told reporters.
Adding to the loss of Shakira is the fact that an Amber Alert, which is designed to provide a quick response to child abduction cases, was never issued. The Cleveland police received intense criticism for not issuing an alert immediately after Shakira was reported missing.
However, in the midst of her disappearance, the Cleveland Heights police issued an Amber Alert for a missing White girl, 14-year-old Amanda Mullikin-White. She had stayed out all night and was found the next day unharmed.
Under fire from the community, the police asked their board to review the decision. The board found that neither the Shakira Johnson case nor the Amanda Mullikin-White case met the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert. Local police departments use their own discretion in deciding when to initiate an alert.