- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Things in life that you should not do: (1) Eat too much fattening food.

(2) Do dangerous drugs recreationally, especially PCP, also known as “angel dust,” “hog,” “crystal,” “horse tranquilizer,” “tic,” “zoot” and other aliases.

(3) Cause a commotion in a White Castle or any other restaurant or public place after other people tell you to pipe down.

(4) When a police officer tells you to “back up, back up,” do not rush at the officer, swing at him and tackle him, shouting “My mama taught me this.”

(5) Do not fall to the ground with the officer and, when his partner joins the fray, flail at both of them as they strike you on the legs, arms and torso with their batons.

(6) Do not ignore them as they shout at you repeatedly to “Put your hands behind your back.” Then rise up and grab an officer’s baton before you are pushed down again.

(7) As four other officers arrive and one uses pepper spray on you, do not continue to strike out and wrestle with them until they put three sets of handcuffs on you.

We don’t know everything yet about Nathaniel Jones and his violent and ultimately fatal confrontation with Cincinnati police in the early morning hours of Nov. 30. The matter is under investigation, as it should be.

But, judging by what much of the nation has seen on security tapes inside the restaurant and videotape made by police of his struggles with them, we can see the late Mr. Jones made a number of bad choices in life.

Besides plumping himself up to a reported 342 pounds, a weight that dangerously enlarged his heart, according to the coroner’s report, he also apparently ingested PCP, which was found along with cocaine and methanol in his bloodstream. These factors, the apparent result of Jones’ bad choices, probably contributed to his death while handcuffed at the scene.

“There was nothing on those tapes to suggest that the police did anything wrong,” said Mayor Charlie Luken. Trouble is, a lot of people don’t even need to look at the tapes to take it as a given the police did something wrong. They pick up the telephone and sound off on call-in shows to say what they choose to believe. Don’t trouble them with the facts. Each side has too many long-simmering resentments to spill out, either against police brutality on one side or against “coddled criminals” on the other.

But neither hard-line position addresses the principle question of how much force is acceptable in subduing a suspect who appears to be whacked out on dangerous drugs.

Anyone familiar with “angel dust” should not be surprised to hear that it’s associated with Jones’ erratic behavior. Originally produced as an animal anesthetic, PCP can trigger acute anxiety, violent hostility and “in some it may produce a psychoses indistinguishable from schizophrenia,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

That does not necessarily put the police in the clear. Even people who make terrible choices have rights. Among them is the right to be protected from excessive force by police, should they feel the need to arrest you.

But the realities of what the police were up against in this situation weakens the case against them. Split-second decisions had to be made based on very little information, other than the large, strong man lunging at them in a parking lot at 6 a.m.

In fact, police misconduct is a very serious problem. Most urban riots since the mid-1960s have been triggered by such alleged episodes, including Cincinnati. The fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white officer there in April 2001 touched off three nights of rioting, which led to 837 arrests and the beatings of several unarmed whites by black gangs.

But when I hear critics say the police should have found a way to subdue Jones less violently, I wonder what they have in mind. Tasers? At least two of them were used in Rodney King’s infamous videotaped beating in Los Angeles in 1991, but they failed to subdue him. Not enough voltage? Maybe. But a bigger shock might also hasten heart failure in someone like Jones.

Perhaps, to suit the armchair critics, police should be outfitted like big game hunters with large nets and tranquilizer guns? I am not being facetious. It is easy to second-guess the police after a tragedy like Jones’ death in Cincinnati. It is much more difficult to draw a hard line as to how much peacekeeping force is enough.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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