Sharp, Charles E. Oral History Interview
Sharp, Charles E.
JD: You’re on the record.
CES: Okay. Number one. I grew up in this city. I know this city like the back of my hand. It’s a beautiful city. The people here are very nice and friendly, when they want to be. But when you got a lot of chaos and crime, people acting like they have no common sense. They going out, trying to take the law in their own hands. You got a problem. And, what I would like to see as a community. Every community needs to get together and focus on how to bring law back to one another and stop all this shooting. That don’t solve problems, you know, taking someone out. You’re going to be sent to jail for the rest of your life, twenty years or better, whatever. And the thing is, Congress need to step in immediately. Pronto, right away, and try to say, okay, enough is enough. And try to take back—not the neighborhood, or the hood, or the city, whatever—take back human lives. Put people back together and make it a better place to live. Stop all this violence. It’s out of hand. It’s out of control. You know, everybody’s ‘gainst one another. For what? It doesn’t make sense. You’re going to get caught if you commit a crime. The best thing to do is stay away from crime. Stay away from trouble. And that’s it.
JD: Have you? One of the things people been talking about. You know escalations in police violence and police officers who have escalated situations instead of trying to de-escalate them. Have you experienced any of that personally? Or have you observed it? Or have you been impacted? If so, how?
CES: I’ve never seen a person actually shot and killed by law enforcement personally, but I’ve seen it on TV, and I hate what I see on TV. As a matter of fact, I don’t like to watch TV that much because every time you turn the TV on, you’ve got somebody being shot down by somebody with a gun. So, I don’t know the nature of it, why there’s so much hate, or so much to pull a weapon to shoot someone. Once you take a life, that life is gone. You got to live with that. You got to live with that the rest of YOUR life for taking a person’s life. God put us here to make us happy and to take care of one another and treat everyone with respect, you know. And, if we just keep going around just shooting everybody, and shooting everybody, there’s not going to be anyone else to shoot. What are you going to do? Take the gun and shoot yourself?
JD: Yeah, yeah. So, you’re saying that the violence is all around?
CES: The violence.
JD: Between residents, between police, between police and residents.
CES: Well, I was listening to the Rev. Al Sharpton Show, and I like Mr. Al, Rev. Sharpton, and I listen to, the guy that comes on Sunday at five o’clock. I listen to him every Sunday cause he’s right here in our neighborhood. He’s in everybody’s neighborhood, and that’s Art McCoy. Art McCoy is a guy who’s concerned about people. He’s concerned about cities, not just East Cleveland, or Cleveland, Warrensville, or Shaker. He’s concerned about people and motivation. Art McCoy’s a real nice guy. I’ve seen him and met him many times. He’s so busy to get his attention, it takes a minute. Mr. Art McCoy is one of the best leaders in the City of Cleveland. He know every point. He knows everything that’s going on, all the violence and the trouble that we’re going through. It’s not necessary. It don’t solve anything, you know. Art McCoy is a real nice guy.
Now the thing is, to get this back in order, all this murder, women hating women, men hating men, all this here. Somebody got to set up a table, and come to the table. We need to sit down at the table and discuss these problems as people and try to come up with a good understanding on how we can come together as a people, as people and get it together.
JD: So question. What are some of the things you think prevent that coming together from happening?
CES: Well, people are so into doing their own thing. They figure like well, “it’s not going to happen to me. I’m not going to get in that type of mix or whatever.” But you never know. The people that got into that situation, we don’t know them and how they got involved with that type of situation. It can happen to anyone. You know with the violence going on today, you know, you got to come out the house to buy your grocery, pay your bills, et cetera, et cetera. So, the way you can really get that, have a public convention downtown. You got all this space. You got the convention center. The mayor is there. The councilman is there. Okay, you counsel people. Let’s, let’s, let’s get a, form a, get a facility where you can have hundreds of people sit down and listen to one another. And get them in a group, you know. Not an individual thing, or a vigilante group coming out and saying “well this is right, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is right.” Get them all together, else it’s never going to stop. If you don’t put them in a position where they can all listen to the same fact and the same proof. And put them in a good spot.
JD: So, that’s a good point. One of the main reasons why this project is taking place, is because finding and identifying facts and truths of different cases has been hard, right? So, if you’ve seen different videos of people as they’ve been shot by police on camera, the videos show one thing, but then the police report will show another thing. And that’s not the case all the time, but it’s been the case a few times. So, I’m curious to know your interpretation and how you identify facts in cases. Just the role of, of who gets to decide what’s actually happening, you know.
CES: The law is going to stick with the law. The law going to back the law. And the law going to stay together. The men in blue, that’s one force that’s going to stay together. The individual law is the law of the people. The people is the individual law that has to step up and say okay, enough is enough. And that’s where you come together in unity. And express all of it together as a bond. And say, okay, we’re going to watch you closer now. If you’re pulling your triggers, we don’t have to pull our triggers. You wear a gun. We don’t have guns. So therefore, from now on, when you pull that gun, you’re going to have to make sure you’re pulling that gun for the right reason. And don’t be pulling a gun just because you’ve got a gun on your shoulder or your hip. This is not the Wild Wild West, or World War I, or World War II. We are civilians. We are civilized people. This is a civilized world. We’re supposed to be so civilized that when you say, “Stop,” we stop. But if you just want to stop and shoot people, you’re breaking the law. And you should go before your peers and be judged because you pulled a trigger, you shot someone, and this person was unarmed. If a person is unarmed, you don’t go around shooting unarmed people. You don’t shoot people that don’t have a weapon to shoot back. I mean, I can see if a person had a weapon. I don’t care if it’s a slingshot. If a person has a weapon, okay, your life is in danger, okay. But do you just have to shoot to kill? That’s the problem: shooting to kill. You’re shooting to kill. Don’t shoot to kill. Shoot to maim or wound or slow the person down. You don’t have to take this person out just because you thought they had a weapon.
There’s too many of our people being shot down in the street in our neighborhoods by people who are licensed to carry a weapon, and you’re shooting them down in cold blood without a weapon on them at all.
JD: Very few of those cases have gotten any sort of accountability or punishment for those people who have done that. What do you think that lack of punishment and that impunity, how does that impunity impact people in the community? What are some of the outcomes of it?
CES: Well, people are scared of people that wear guns. And, police wear guns. And you would be afraid of a person with a gun, because a gun can kill. A gun is a powerful instrument. It’s not a violin, it’s not a harp, it’s not a drum, it’s not a piano, it’s not an organ, it’s not a trumpet, it’s not a flute. It’s a weapon. So, when you pull a gun, you’re actually saying, “I’m a king and I’m going to destroy you.” So, guns should not be in the community at all. If you have a good community, and a good solid community, where there’s hardly any violence, why do you have to pull your gun in a community, that there’s no crime, or that much violence. It doesn’t make sense.
JD: That’s powerful. That’s powerful. Do you have anything else you want to conclude with or add? You’ve given a lot about solutions and the needs for togetherness and, you know. I can’t focus on people’s lives, but I want to give every interviewee a last chance to give, you know, a story about their, you know, someone in their lives who has been impacted by police violence. Sadly, if you ask enough black people especially, they know someone whose life was changed dramatically through the loss or brutality that someone suffered at the hands of the police or.
CES: Well, the young man that was shot at the recreation center, and I’m standing on city property as I speak to you now. I’m on city property. I feel like if I’m on city property, I’m protected by the city, police, the mayor, the Congressman, the Councilman, and everybody that represents this property I’m standing on. Now, I look on it like this here. I was devastated when I heard about the Trayvon Martin shooting. It happened on the West Side.
JD: Tamir Rice?
CES: Tamir Rice. I’m sorry. Tamir Rice. When I heard about the Mr. young man Rice shooting, that kind of like sent me through a shock wave. Because I figure here’s a young man that’s at a recreation center, where you’re supposed be safe. And he’s just out here doing his thing with a toy gun. I wouldn’t care if it was Taso gun. In fact, my first toy that my parents bought me for Christmas was a cap gun.
JD: I’ve heard so many people say that.
CES: Two-holster. You put the gun on and there’s a cap.
JD: I’ve heard so many people say that.
CES: We enjoyed our guns so bad, so much. We used to go out in the streets and put the little roller caps in our guns and shoot up all in the air and have a good time. The police never bothered us, but they knew it was a cap gun. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-bat-bat. But now, see, that’s just a reason to do what you want to do because we hear something of noise. Here’s a young man, he’s gone, and I just feel so bad, the family, ooo.
And another thing too. I’ve gotten so fed up with the city of Cleveland. I love the city, but you know what? I know it’s bad every where, and it’s bad. If I move to China, I’m sure they’re going to have guns. Okay? You can’t escape guns. So, I’m going to Germany, and you’re going to have guns. In Russia, you’re going to have guns.
JD: If your?
CES: You’re going to have guns.
JD: Okay, I was actually looking at a statistic that said American police have killed over 500 or close to 1,100 people.
CES: 1,100 people in this year.
JD: Right. I think in the past week, American police have killed like a dozen or so. And Germany has killed like seven people in the past 10 years. So, when you say if I move to Germany there will be guns, or you talking about a particular anti-blackness or racism that’s present? Or?
CES: I heard the word “black,” but I’m going to say people of color. People of darker color. We have a chance, we have a chance of being critically wounded, or raped—women, beat up by people, that are in law enforcement because they got the upper hand. They have the upper hand, and they know that the law going to stick with them, regardless of whatever. And, I’m not saying all police are bad. All people are not bad. But, the ones that is causing all this, what you might say, drama, and causing all this. You might call, it’s like a typhoid. The ones that caused America to crash with the violence, those are the ones that should be put to trial. They shouldn’t have a police badge. They shouldn’t even have a job working for the citizens of any city.
Now in order to combat the issue, each one of, if you wanted to be a police man, you should go through the Federal Bureau. Once you do all your training in the city, the federal government should set in and make sure you know these rules. “Okay, you know these rules, these laws, and you know these things.” Before you pull your weapon, you’re supposed to make sure that person has a weapon. Now, how do you determine that a person has a weapon? I could see a gun from here to Buckeye. A fake gun! I don’t care. I grew up around guns. My father used to hunt rabbits, squirrels if he had to, pheasants. My daddy was an outdoorsman, I was brought up. My father was a World War II veteran, and he was so good as a World War II veteran, he saved his whole platoon over in Okinawa. He told me the story so many times, I know it backwards. My father went over there and his lieutenant was under, his whole squad was under machine gun fire by the Japanese army. My father opened up his M16 rifle and stopped the Japanese from destroying his platoon and the people he was under command with his lieutenant. When my father came back to America, his commanding lieutenant told him, my father became a corporal after he had to say he was a sergeant. He was a private, I’m sorry, he was a private. But after he got the purple heart for saving his squad and his people with the engagement with the people, with the Japanese army. His lieutenant said, private, corporal Sharp, you put your rifle in your bag and you take your bag home. At the time, soldiers couldn’t bring their machines or their guns back. A gun is a machine, just like a weapon. Whether you call it a weapon or a machine or whatever. “Corporal Sharp, you take your gun back to the States.” My father put his gun in his duffle bag and he brought it back home with him. And that was his commitment that he had the right to bring his weapon back to the States because he had saved his squad or his platoon, platoon in an engagement with the Japanese army. If he hadn’t stepped in, and opened up his M-1, they would have slaughtered all of them. And my father received the Purple Heart, and, my daddy is gone now, but a lot of black men have fought war for this country, sacrificed their lives to protect this country and now they’re shooting us in the street, more or less like the descendants of the men that fought in World War I, II, Civil War, Korea, Vietnam. Whatever war you want to call it, now you’re killing our people or our men without no weapon. And that’s what makes it so hard to understand, that our men fought to keep this country safe from other tyranny and now you trying to destroy our people here.
CES: And, I’m finished. I’m done.
JD: All right. Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate your honesty.