- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Three days of racially tinged riots engulfed minority neighborhoods in Cincinnati last week after a white city policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teen-ager, the fourth black man to be killed by Cincinnati police since November and the 15th to be killed in six years. Acknowledging that "violence on our streets is uncontrolled and runs rampant," Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken declared a state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for several days. "Gunfire went off like you might hear in Beirut," the mayor said. A snipers bullet grazed one officer as incidents of civilian gunfire directed against the police rapidly mounted. The spreading unrest featured roaming bands of youths smashing windows, looting stores and setting hundreds of fires.
While the latest death of a black suspect ignited the civil disturbances, tensions in Cincinnati have been simmering for a very long time. Blacks who live in Cincinnati have insisted for years that police have unfairly and abusively targeted them. Indeed, in March the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio joined a coalition of civil rights groups in filing a suit in federal court charging that Cincinnati police had engaged in a "30-year pattern of racial profiling." As evidence of racial profiling, the suit specifically cited the fact that each of the 13 suspects killed by Cincinnati police from 1995 through 2000 was black. Kweisi Mfume, national president of the NAACP, visited Cincinnati amid the unrest. "Cincinnatis a microscope, the belly of the whale," Mr. Mfume asserted, arguing that the city was "ground zero" in the nations need to eliminate racial profiling.
In fact, the situation surrounding the use of police force in Cincinnati is far more complex than Mr. Mfume seems willing to acknowledge. And it is in no way comparable to the assessment maliciously offered by Malik Shabazz, the firebrand who heads the D.C.-based New Black Panther Party. Mr. Shabazz and some of his colleagues traveled to Cincinnati for the funeral of Timothy Thomas, the 19-year-old who was shot fleeing police, who tragically, and mistakenly, believed he was reaching for a gun. "Blacks are being shot down in cold blood," Mr. Shabazz charged without offering any evidence. But the tragic error that led to Mr. Thomas death, which is being investigated by the FBI and a grand jury, may have been the consequence of an over-apprehensive police force, which had been increasingly fired upon and otherwise attacked in recent months.
As it happens, the overwhelming majority of the fatal shootings since 1995 by Cincinnati police, several of whom were themselves black, have been justifiable. Twelve of the alleged victims threatened deadly force against the police. Six had their own guns. Another seized an officers gun. One wielded a knife. Anothers choice of weapons was a nail-studded board. An escaped psychiatric patient used a brick. Two others used their automobiles, including a 12-year-old boy who dragged one officer to death before being killed himself. Indeed, three Cincinnati policemen have been killed during the last four years; two of them were black. One policeman has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the asphyxiation death of one suspect. And the U.S. Justice Department, which was headed by Janet Reno, investigated several of the most controversial shootings, exonerating the officers. Unfortunately, it is much easier and much more self-serving for those in pursuit of their own personal or political or, yes, racial agendas to charge racism than it is to admit that the problem is complicated and there is enough blame to go around.


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