Hiding behind empty rhetoric, rubber bullets and curfew laws, the Cincinnati police force has finally returned the city to order. As Cincinnati’s black citizens know all too well by now, “order” translates roughly to a reign of terror in which a police force — marred by an indisputable record of racial bias — can shoot unarmed citizens to death with virtually no accountability.
Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old, was shot and killed by police April 7. Thomas was a black male and unarmed. The officer involved, Stephen Roach, in essence played judge, jury and executioner in leveling the death penalty on a kid who had nothing more than a few traffic violations against him.
And in the wake of the shooting, non-aggressive protesters and mourners were first intimidated with rubber bullets and pepper spray, then silenced by a dusk ’til dawn curfew. All this as Cincinnati’s mayor, Charles Luken, encouraged his minions to “embrace justice.”
One can draw parallels between the Thomas case and countless other instances of police brutality in this country. There is a clear pattern of police violence aimed particularly at this nation’s minorities that seems almost commonplace in today’s news. But beyond that, one can point out the voraciousness with which police power to seize and confiscate property has increased over the last couple decades.
One can point out the thoroughly discussed yet somehow unceasing practice of racial profiling that takes place in pretty much any city in this country. One can point out the drug busts on “Cops,” where a fervent band of power-hungry middle-aged officers hides around corners, guns drawn, cameras rolling, horrific grins across their faces as they just can’t wait to ruin the life of some guy who wants to smoke a joint in his car.
It’s this simple. We live in a police state where those charged with our protection assume more and more control every day, where under the guise of justice and order our freedom is being devoured. This pervasive mentality of iron-fisted law enforcement has stripped the police of accountability and instilled within the people deep feelings of fear, anger and distrust. This mentality is what makes Officer Stephen Roach think it is acceptable to shoot a 19-year-old kid like he was nothing but an animal. This mentality is what makes people want to riot in the streets.
It is easy to make this one young man’s life a rhetorical issue, just another piece of evidence to contribute to the liberal push for reform within the country’s police departments. Obviously reform is called for, but putting Thomas on a list with the countless others victimized by similar violence assures he will soon be forgotten or tokenized.
Not only that, but I am 19 years old. I also walk around unarmed. I’ve also committed traffic violations. The thought that this puts me at risk to be shot in the head by someone I’ve never met nor granted any power over my life, someone who walks around with a gun shooting people on impulse — well, that deserves a stronger response than some half-hearted argument aimed at re-examining the actions of a few officers in a few isolated cases.
I’m not sure what the proper response is at this point, but I’m not looking to supposed leaders like Luken for the answers. Nor should we expect anything of substance from our federal government with some moralizing Wyatt Earp-wannabe like John Ashcroft as attorney general. We will see the usual internal affairs investigations, perhaps a scapegoat here and there, and opportunistic politicians consoling the victims’ family members on CNN. And inside a year, it will happen again.
It’s been over a decade since the rap group N.W.A. brought the division between the police and the people, particularly poor urban minorities, to the national spotlight with their angry call to arms in “F*** tha Police.” Now, 12 years and countless treacheries later, one has to wonder how far off their message was. How many more families have to be ripped apart, and how many more innocent citizens have to die before we decide to make it stop?
Donny Waack is a sophomore in Pierson College.