Just like Detroit?

By now you’ve probably heard about what’s been going on in Cincinnati, right? If you haven’t, then, briefly, here’s the deal:

On April 7, a 19-year-old black man was shot to death there by a white police officer. Anger in the African-American neighborhood where the young man was killed subsequently fueled several days of rioting. The fact that the young man was shot and killed was bad enough, but what really lit the fuse with some folks was the fact that Timothy Thomas, the victim, was running away from the cops when he was shot. Apparently the officer, Stephen Roach, was trying to arrest Thomas for failing to appear in court for misdemeanor charges and traffic violations.

Now, it’s usually not a good idea to run from the police. That much ought to be understood by just about everyone. Why Thomas thought he had any chance at all to ditch the cops by taking off on foot is anybody’s guess. All I know about police officers in general is what I’ve heard them say and what I’ve read, and one thing that keeps popping up is that their adrenaline level often kicks into overdrive when they find themselves in a situation like Officer Roach’s. If it’s a young cop in this situation, then there’s a good chance that adrenaline level might sky into hyper-overdrive. There are reasons for this, not the least of which is experience on the street, but the main thing to remember is that running from cops is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Bad things usually happen as a result.

Having said that, because I try as often as I can not to take the easy approach of blaming all police officers whenever some negative confrontation occurs between the police and the African-American community, I’ve got to say that this thing in Cincinnati has got me wondering just what in the hell is on the mind of some police officers. Some, OK? Not all. Some. For example, let’s take what Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman had to say in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer about the riot:

“It’s going to come to a point where the officers are going to shut down and say we can’t take it anymore. ... The only thing to improve morale is for [city] council to come forward and admit that the racial-profiling ordinance was nothing more than a political stunt. We’re in the middle of a riot and I can guarantee you we are stopping, detaining and questioning people in the neighborhoods where there is unrest. Two weeks ago council called that racial profiling. Now that the city is burning the council doesn’t know what to say.”

Interesting, yes? But here comes the part that, well, kind of got my attention.

“We are not going to negotiate with these terrorists and that’s what they are. These are nothing but terrorists out here on the street. If we give one inch to these terrorists in the form of negotiations, then we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves when we turn into another Detroit or Washington D.C.”

Come again?

I’m sorry, but I just know I didn’t understand this man correctly. Is this guy serious? Maybe somebody needs to pull Fangman’s coat and remind him that the last real race riot to occur in Detroit happened more than three decades ago in 1967. That riot followed a police raid on a blind pig. Actually, however, it was that plus quite a bit of pent-up frustration with the Police Department at the time. When Coleman Young became mayor in 1974, the first thing he did was to focus on straightening out the Police Department.

No, this hardly means that relations between the police and the citizens in Detroit are all warm and fuzzy. As a matter of fact, our own city’s Police Department is currently under investigation concerning allegations that Detroit’s police officers are trigger-happy. But to say that Detroit is somehow worse than Cincinnati? Please.

And now a word about racial profiling, Cincinnati-style. Since November, four black men have been killed by the police in that city. Since 1995, 15 people have been killed by the police, and every last one of those 15 was a black male. Cincinnati’s population is about 40 percent black. To be honest, I really don’t know what else needs to be said except to respond to Fangman’s rather twisted justification of those statistics:

“Quite frankly many of them on the [city] council have inflamed the situation in the past few months with talk about Cincinnati police officers murdering African-American males but not telling people the truth about all the officers that have been shot at by these African-American males. We’re fed up.”

OK, I’m not going to dispute Fangman’s contention that some of the officers have been shot at by young black men because there probably have been instances where that happened, and one thing that’s guaranteed to provoke an even worse response from a cop than running from him is shooting at him. Trust me on this one. But Fangman is making it sound like Cincinnati is the Wild West where all the cops wear white hats and the bad guys aren’t just dressed in black, they are black. And if all these kids are shooting at the cops, but the cops are such good guys in Cincinnati, then why didn’t the black neighborhood rally to their defense? After all, we black folks don’t appreciate criminals any more than other folks do, especially since most black criminals spend considerably more time preying on their black neighbors than they do shooting at cops.

Just one more thing I found interesting. Timothy Thomas? The victim? He never took a shot at Officer Stephen Roach. Not once. Thomas has no record of ever taking a shot at a police officer, and he was running away from the one who killed him. But I have yet to read an account where Fangman addresses this fact. Strange.

And Fangman’s actually worried that Cincinnati could turn into Detroit? What the poor guy doesn’t seem to realize is that his hometown situation is already far worse than anything his Motor City nightmare could ever compare to; Cincinnati is acting like Cincinnati.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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