Cincinnati's killer cops

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

By Salon Staff
Published April 17, 2001 1:22PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Just once I would like to see Salon publish an article about the number of lives and property saved by police in African-American neighborhoods. Any delusion that police are the cause of problems in these neighborhoods would be destroyed if we simply removed all law enforcement protection in those areas.

-- Royal Masset

If people want to avoid getting shot by the police, they should avoid criminal activity. I have no sympathy for criminals who are shot and killed, nor do I have any for the communities that demonize the police who are trying to keep our society safe while singing the virtues of some street thug trying to bring our society down.

-- Tom Burnette

Earl Ofari Hutchinson unfairly characterizes the last 15 police shootings in Cincinnati by not detailing the situations under which they occurred. While it is true that some of these have certainly been "dubious," the majority of them have been cases of legitimate self-defense actions.

For instance, in the most recent shooting before the death of Timothy Thomas (a case which may very well end up with an indictment of a police officer), the police killed a man during a drug-related run, in which the man yelled, "You want a war, you got a war," before opening fire on police. In the two cases before that, one killing was judged justified because the suspect fled the scene, then attempted to remove an officer's gun from his holster, which discharged, wounding one of the officers. The other killing (that same day) of Roger Owensby, who died as the result of a pile-on during his arrest, has resulted in the indictment of two officers, a case which has yet to go to trial. The killing before that was of a man who had broken into several apartments, pistol-whipped residents, robbed them and reportedly attempted to remove the gold teeth of one resident. Outside the building he was confronted by police, whereupon he dropped to the ground, pulled a weapon and fired at officers.

That so many black men are killed every year at the hands of police is as much, if not more, the fault of community leaders and communities themselves than of the police, who are left on the front line to deal with the ragged edge of society's shortcomings. What they face every day are people whose lives suffer from serious opportunity depression, terribly low expectations, zero investment in community building and deteriorating respect for the authority of the law. It is simply unfair that we now blame the police for the deaths of all the young men who have died in confrontations with the law. Moreover, police apprehend thousands of people every year without incident. Whether these arrests are the result of racial profiling or not is, of course, something that deserves investigation. But to paint cops as killers, as Hutchinson does, albeit subtly, is of no help in this matter.

Cincinnati has a lot of work to do. It is a racially divided city, for sure. The city administration has failed in its efforts to create racial understanding, and has done little to create an infrastructure that relates positively to the changing demographics of the city's population. Rather, the city is still dominated by the interests and influence of whites who view the city's poor and minorities as a foreign body. Like so many cities, the flight of businesses, stable families and homeowners from the city limits, and their subsequent indifference to the plight of those left within the city limits has left a city that is a hollow shell of its former self. Perhaps something good will come of all this, and people will realize that the health of the city is central to the health of the region.

-- Steven Backs

Hutchinson states in his most recent piece for Salon that "since 1995, Cincinnati police have gunned down 15 black males." At first blush, this might be a shocking statistic. It is also inaccurate (13 were shot, one died of asphyxiation, one died of head wounds unrelated to firearms). Moreover, in context, the number seems much less dramatic.

Hutchinson failed to mention the Cincinnati Enquirer's recent investigation of the use of deadly force by the Cincinnati police. From 1994 to 1999, the Enquirer found that 75 percent of all individuals shot by the police were African-American, and 75 percent of the shooters were white. Unlike Hutchinson, however, the Enquirer demonstrated a modicum of thoroughness by pointing out that over the same period, 75 percent of the violent crimes in Cincinnati were committed by African-Americans and 75 percent of the Cincinnati police department is white. Funny how the full story can make the shocking mundane.

Hutchinson laments the cynicism and distrust of the minority community with regard to the police. Distorted, lazy and/or partial facts in the cause of advocacy is no small part of that cynicism and distrust.

-- Jeff Larroca

This is becoming an all too familiar story throughout the U.S., and I feel that the police are out of control. How can an officer say that he felt that his life was threatened when the subject was trying to get away? This does not make any sense to me, unless the subject was making threatening gestures or actually firing a weapon at the officer, but it does not seem to me that a man that is just wanted on misdemeanor charges would do such a thing. I definitely think this should be investigated thoroughly, but the rioting is a bad reaction to this. Why? Because now the people who have been arrested for charges of riot are now going to become a part of the criminal justice system, and if they make any wrong moves in the future, they will be subject to the same kind of treatment as the young man who was killed by the police. It is a very disturbing thing when the civil servants we hire to protect us from the truly dangerous criminal elements in our society turn around and victimize people who are, at most, marginal criminals. The only way to end these indiscretions by the police is for citizens to be responsible, and to demand change in the conduct codes for police departments.

-- Lyle F. Eccles

Well, in typical journalistic incompetence, you have failed to report the other side of the story. While Cincinnati cops have killed 15 blacks, 12 Cincinnati cops have been killed by blacks, and not a single one killed by a white. While this does not justify the shootings, it does shed a little light on the situation that cops face. While standing in a dark alley, attempting to arrest a man that you have chased for several blocks, and wondering why he was running from you, it's easy to see why a cop would get nervous. You state that his biggest offense was not showing up to court, but why was he running if all he had to worry about was misdemeanor charges? Possibly because he was carrying a gun? Drugs? Only that cop can know what was going through his mind as he attempted to apprehend a suspect who shouldn't have been running in the first place.

Next time, try giving both angles of the story, and let your readers decide for themselves

-- Matt Harp

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------