Cleveland: Wounded officer reflects on Glenville riots anniversary

8:09 AM, Jul 24, 2010   |    comments
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Angelo SantaMaria, 80, raced his squad car to the area of East 123rd Street and Lakeview Avenue moments after three fellow Cleveland police officers had been shot and killed in a Black Nationalist ambush.

"There were policemen behind trees, and lots of police cars and shots were coming from you didn't know where in the neighborhood, or how many people were involved," SantaMaria recalls clearly.

He quickly spotted Lt. LeRoy Jones on the ground. Jones had been shot in the initial ambush. 

"You couldn't get to him with a police car because they would have shot it all up. So I asked for a volunteer, and this young man volunteered to drive me in," SantaMaria says.

That young man was named James Chapman. SantaMaria says he never thought that the Black Nationalists, led by Fred Ahmed Evans, would shoot at a black man.

"So I told him OK, when I get there I'll crawl out the back and drag the lieutenant in," SantaMaria continued, recalling the events from the front porch of his suburban home. 

"We got there and Chapman says let's go get him. He decides to jump out of the car with me. We both went down, fatally for him, and I was fortunate enough to survive."

Chapman was shot in the head. SantaMaria, struggling to cover Lt. Jones' body, was hit in the back. Ten other police officers would be wounded that night of July 23, 1968. One lost a leg. Another lingered in agony before dying of his wounds 25 years later.

SantaMaria, long since retired and with the events of that terrible night 42 years behind him, sees that critical time in Cleveland's history from a unique perspective. He learned that good and evil do not see colors.

"The Black Nationalists shot me. A young black man who had a family, he died because he tried to help me save my Lieutenant. And when they took me to Huron Road Hospital, a black surgeon walked in by the name of Clarence Huggins. He operated on me for about 5 hours to save my life."

July 23 has been a difficult day for Angelo SantaMaria for more than four decades. He lost three friends, and watched others die around him. Every year on this date he dips the flag in front of his house in memory and honor of the fallen. He knows it was both a painful and instructive day.

As for the word hero, the retired police officer and ex-Marine who also lived through intense fighting in Korea, will not allow that to be applied to himself.

"Us guys that survived, we were lucky. But the real heroes in this world are the soldiers that never made it, the policemen and firemen, all those civil servants that devote their lives to the welfare of the city."

"The real heroes, they're all underneath the crosses."


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