CINCINNATI (CASCADE PRESS) There is little anger felt in the streets of Cincinnati over the killing of Sam Dubose. I came to this conclusion after spending two days on the banks of this riverfront town as the “dog days” of 2015 draw to a close.
Several weeks ago the national news media speculated that Cincinnati was on the verge of exploding. The tipping point, the media reports said, could be the release of the video showing the shooting death of Samuel Dubose, a black motorist stopped by a white University of Cincinnati police officer for violations of a state law that requires motorists to display a license plate on the front of their automobiles. The national headlines even prompted me to write a column (https://haroldmichaelharvey.com/2015/07/30/a-powder-keg-in-cincinnati/) speculating that Cincinnati was a powder keg waiting to explode once the public saw this video.
Although this law is on the books and was passed by the Ohio Legislature many years ago, hardly any jurisdiction in the state enforces it. Seldom has anyone been pulled over for a failure to display the front license plate. On the rare occasion when a motorist has been ticketed, it usually occurred in the state’s capital city, Columbus, while cars are parked in street parking slots.
Many Ohio motorists display the Ohio license plate on the rear bumper of their car and opt for the Ohio Buckeye plate on the front bumper. This is a largely acceptable practice in Ohio. “Go Buckeyes!”
Samuel Dubose was killed on the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio by a certified police officer 344 days after Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson, Missouri certified police officer, one year ago tomorrow.
There have been more black motorists and pedestrians gunned down by law enforcement officers since Brown, but none as gruesome as the point blank head shot delivered by Ray Tensing, who was employed by the University of Cincinnati.
Ten days later, July 29, a small, but tense demonstration was held in Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. Six people were arrested for minor skirmishes. There was no rioting or burned buildings in the protest as happened after a police killing of a young black man in 2001 in the “Over-The-Rhine” community of Cincinnati.
At the intersection of Rice Street and Valencia Street, a lone candle flickers in the sunshine near the spot where Dubose’s car came to rest following Ray Tensing’s gunshot to his head. It is part of a small memorial to yet another African American killed by a police officer after a minor traffic stop.
This memorial consists of several stuffed teddy bears, sundry candles whose light has flickered out, a set of drums with a Teddy Pendergrass CD atop it titled “Love Demo, Live in 1979,” assorted liquor, wine and beer bottles, and an Ohio license plate number EWF 1233.
As I approached this memorial, two black men are about 25 yards east of me on Rice Street. They are on the curve, one washing a car and the other doing repair work to a car. When I pull my reporter’s pad out, they walk into their homes. Apparently, they do not wish to talk about the evening Dubose was gunned down on their peaceful street.
A middle aged black women walks by me on her way to the bus stop. She appears nervous. But she is polite.
“Do you live around here,” I asked?
“Yes,” she said, pointing towards Valencia Street.
“Were you home when Samuel Dubose was killed?”
“I was in the house.”
“Did you see or hear anything?”
“No,” she said picking up her pace.
“Does he live around here?”
“No, not that I know of,” she said ending the conversation.
I left the scene of the crime and drove over to the University of Cincinnati. I drove over to the campus community looking for members of the University’s police department. I wanted to see them in action. I was curious to know if I, a black man, with a beard, would be profiled and pulled over for questioning. I was not. This may have to do more with the fact that I saw only one university police officer during the hour or so I was on campus. This officer was parked in a squad car behind the football stadium.
On the first day of my visit, the City of Cincinnati had pulled the University Police Department off the streets of Cincinnati, according to Bryan Logan in the Business Insider.
According to Logan, the city entered into an agreement with the university in 2013 which allowed the university’s police department to make “serious traffic stops” in a designated area around the campus community.
Statistics indicate that the overwhelming majority of people who have been stopped by UCPD have been African American.
“In the case of UCPD, officials have also raised concerns about potential racial disparities surrounding the traffic stops. FOX 19 reports that the number of black people who encountered UCPD officers “quadrupled from 633 in all of 2013 to 2,354 from January 1, 2015, to July 27, 2015,” Logan reports.
The University of Cincinnati has tried to get a handle on this shooting Santa Ono, UC’s president, has agreed to work with the city in order to change how the school’s officers are trained and their use of force policy.
A white, 21 year-old graphic design student from a small rural Ohio community said she would like to see the university do away with the certified police force.
“I favor reform of the university’s police department. I believe it should serve as a security force to handle minor problems on the campus,” she said while walking to her internship at an off campus public relations firm.
When asked about crime on campus she said: “There is very little crime on campus. There is some but no more than on other campuses. I tend to think that crimes which happen here are students doing bad things to students. However, I have read some reports that in the area surrounding the campus that members from the community are doing bad things to students, but I do not believe that information is completely accurate,” she said.
Jahi, a black middle-aged health care worker, who walks through the UC campus to work on most days, said he believes the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case sent a signal to white police officers that it was okay to shoot black men.
“Trayvon Martin gives them [white police officers] the green light,” he said.
“Why is there very little outrage in Cincinnati over the Dubose killing compared to that in other parts of the country,” I asked him.
“Because the people in Cincinnati are afraid to speak up. We talk about things being bad in the south, but Cincinnati is just like the south. They just got their first black police chief in 2010. I’m from Detroit. We’ve had black police chiefs since the 1970s and black mayors. But this is all new here. They still think it is like it use to be,” he said.
Terry Wiggins, a retired resource officer from a chemical company and long time resident, said he believes the relative peace has more to do with the fact that Cincinnati learned from the 2001 incident when Stephen Roach, a white Cincinnati police officer shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man in 2001 in the Over-The-Rhine community. The Over-The-Rhine community was established by German immigrants in the late 19th century and has become a black ghetto in the last 50 years, as the German immigrants moved out when blacks moved into the area.
“The Collaborative Agreement entered into by the city and the Justice Department has helped the city to get on top of this situation, unlike what we saw happen in other parts of the country,” Wiggins said.
“The grand jury’s quick indictment sent the right message,” he said.
Although there is little anger in the streets, Cincinnati may be that community that teaches law enforcement agencies how to develop best practices for their use-of-force policies, as well as sending a strong message, that any sworn officer who violates the rights of citizens will be swiftly dealt with by a blow from “Justice in the Round.”
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org