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    Still Killing Citizens: The Death of Sam Dubose

    A University of Cincinnati cop has been indicted for murder. He killed an unarmed black citizen named Sam Dubose, whom he had initially stopped over a minor traffic issue: no front license plate. Why are we still doing this?

    We've heard this story before. A ridiculously minor offense, the kind of thing that cops routinely let go, escalates into homicide when a cop kills a black citizen who has no weapon. After Eric Garner and Mike Brown, after Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland and Walter Scott, we are still doing this. Why?

    The facts in evidence in the Cincinnati case are appalling. The killer was wearing a body camera. His police report is flatly refuted by the video from that camera. A number of other police officers made sworn statements, backing up the killer, that are also flatly contradicted by the video evidence. All of that is a disgrace. But even more shocking than what they did is when they did it.

    After Ferguson, after Baltimore, after Tamir Rice and Walter Scott, after months and months of protests against police killing black citizens, and after months and months of increasingly less plausible denials of the problem, these cops went out in the second half of July 2015 and did EXACTLY what apologists for the police have been telling protestors cops don't do. A cop escalates a chicken-shit traffic stop over a license plate into a homicide, for no perceptible reason. His fellow cops lie and perjure themselves to back him. We are still doing this. Apparently, some of us insist on doing this.

    Protest and conscious-raising have not been enough. There are still some cops out there, people who should never have been police for even a minute, who do not see killing unarmed black people as a problem. Attention to the issue has not made such people more cautious; Sam Dubose's killer is unbelievably reckless. Watch the tape. Attention to the issue has not dissuaded some cops, sworn peace officers, from this terrible crime against peace and justice.

    Our national conversation about race and policing is not working, because some people, some actual cops, are refusing to accept that conversation. They are not willing to stop killing unarmed civilians. It is, apparently, a privilege they insist on.

    There is nothing left to be done but to apply the full force of the law. We are still doing this, because some people refuse to stop doing this, refuse even to have an honest conversation about this. It is time to stop talking. It is time to put some people, as many people as insist upon it, in jail.



    The sense of hopelessness is overwhelming. Each small step forward seems to do nothing more than propel us faster toward the next tragedy.

    The video came from a body camera the man was wearing, but that didn't stop him. Training? I'm as sick of hearing about that as I am of how much we need to establish a dialogue. I've had it with departments paying out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to the families of murder victims while the perpetrator of the crime keeps their job, benefits and pension. I'm tired of the same excuses, platitudes and explanations for why it keeps happening while we wring our hands and lament another lost life.

    I watched the recent video released of Sandra Bland while in jail, supposedly to prove how well she was treated. One portion was of her, still in her regular clothes, sitting on a bench and waiting ... she was in profile, a bit hunched, confused and clearly scared. A moment in time when she must have felt entirely alone. A brief time later the whole country was watching her on that bench because she was dead. Today we watched Sam DuBose grasp his steering wheel anxiously, wipe the sweat from his face and try to figure out if he was in trouble - moments before being shot in the head. Just the latest two examples of innocent people living normal, everyday lives until someone with legal authority wipes them away.

    I can't keep watching the last moments of someone's life. Will you all be watching mine next?

    This is just an indictment. We saw Eric Garner choked to death on Staten Island with no conviction. The Tamir Rice case in Cleveland is still pending. It is not clear that this officer will be found guilty. There are many who blame the victim rather than decide that the police were in error.

    Donald Trump leads in many polls of likely GOP voters.  There are active policies that keep blacks off juries and prevent blacks from voting. Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that the system is rigged to destroy black bodies. The only reason that an indictment came in this case is because of video. Without video, the lies told by the police would have carried the day.

    We will see if a conviction actually occurs.

    Even the media is biased. CNN's story shows the cop in uniform with an American flag in the background making him seem patriotic. The victim is shown in an old mug-shot. The imagery edicts a noble cop and a thug.


    Why so surprised? This kind of behavior has clearly been going for a long time, probably as long as we've had police. Before cell phone cams and body cams, we just didn't know about it. Even Rodney King only made the news in 1991 because someone happened to capture the beating on videocamera.

    If cops have been engaging in this behavior--the crime and the cover-up--for generations, how could a few sensational news stories possibly change the entrenched culture?

    I'll go one step further, throwing Ray Tensing in prison won't change cop culture either, just as throwing a few token drug kingpins in jail doesn't stop drug dealing. No cop expects to become the next Ray Tensing. In the vast majority of these traffic-stop escalations, no one dies, and the cops keep doing what they've always done with little risk of penalty.

    For serious, cultural reform, you have to take it to the local level. Cops have to be routinely penalized for these kind of overreactions and escalations, even when it doesn't result in murder or national press. We need bodycams and supervisors to review the footage after any violent arrest, and we need to penalize cops who lie to protect their colleagues. 

    Indictment and incarceration are only for the most extreme cases. The next Ray Tensing has to know that if he overreacts and crosses the line, he faces a high risk of suspension, demotion, or termination, regardless of whether someone sues or dies. His partners need to know that they face similar penalties if they lie for him. If cops internalize a real and present threat to their careers, then and only then will they change their attitudes and behavior.

    Actually, Mike, my questions were rhetorical, as I think you know. And I don't think convicting one shooter is the end of the story. All of the things you say need to be done.

    My real point is that we can't wait for the cops to clean up their own acts any more. It has to be cleaned up for them. They don't get a vote on this anymore. They are not allowed carte Blanche to murder people, and if they object to that they can get out.

    I also understand that this is the product of an entrenched culture. But I believe there are two police cultures. There's the militarized culture of compliance policing, and there is still another culture of actual police work which rightfully abhors that shit. But the two cultures are bound together by an egos of cop solidarity that lets the crazy, irresponsible cops flourish and keeps the sane cops from putting a lid on them.

    I couldn't tell you how large each group is, or how powerful, but it's clear that the insane compliance cops are entrenched in leadership and in training, so that some of their craziness is actually taught as instructional doctrine to some rookies. I would like to see the better tradition of policing rise up and take charge, but I don't believe America can wait any longer for the police to clean up their own act. Change has to be imposed on them, and the bad cops needs to have their power broken. I believe there are enough sane cops left to step up and move their departments forward in a healthy way.

    Yeah, I was rhetorically taking your rhetorical questions literally. I absolutely agree with you about outside pressure on police reform, and your distinction between law enforcement factions sounds astute. Where I did take issue with your post and with the way most activists have been approaching police brutality, is the emphasis on prosecuting individuals. I support applying "the full force of the law" for the sake of justice, but I don't think it's a very practical way to change police attitudes and behavior. There are more effective ways; I wish they were a bigger part of the conversation.

    I think this is the main point. We'll never stop cops from killing people if we don't stop cops from terrorizing many more people into submission with threats of violence or minor acts of violence. The cops who enjoy bullying people regularly will eventually kill someone or beat them to the point of critical injuries when these bullying tactics escalate. I do think it's likely that the cops who enjoy bullying people are a minority, perhaps a significant minority, but still a minority. The question is how to get police chiefs to punish them and how to get the good cops to stop protecting them when they violate citizens civil rights.

    This is not a mystery. We already know how to reform police departments. Outside supervision, dismissal of problematic cops, community policing, better training, etc. The hard part is implementing these changes on a national scale.

    Michael, you can't really be so naive as to believe this Pollyannaish, Whitewashing tripe about 'reform', it is little more than a PR campaign to sooth White guilt about the continuing bloody treatment of minorities.

    The White Middle Class rarely experiences the daily harassment and brutality the Cops systematically inflict on minorities unless they join activists and resist this oppression.  We did see what happens when White people confront the Cops in NYC during OWS, the White Shirt officers were the ones who led the attack and inflicted  punishment and brutality on the peaceful demonstrators many of whom were young women.  They did this in full view of the media to show everyone who they work for and what they will do to those who resist.


    The Guardian is reporting that two of the officers who corroborated this cop's false report were previously connected to the death of another black man. Story on Huff Post.

    There is a link to "the Counted" on the Guardian website. It is a crowd sourced tally of police shootings in America.

    Here's a report on the two officers and their involvement in a 2010 wrongful death suit. And this is the Guardian piece "The Counted".

    Were the two alibi cops with the University or the city? I am wondering if the quick decisive action taken against the shooter, certainly a break with common procedure, has anything to do with his being on a different force, part of a different gang, so to speak. A cop that could be sacrificed. 

    They're all U of Cincinnati cops. I don't think this is the DA viewing the University cops as another gang ... They're all cops in his jurisdiction.

    On the other hand, Tensing is a rookie on a university force, and many of the younger officers on college police forces are young guys who didn't get into the city police, and are building some police experience before taking the city's police exam again. (I've actually seen a knot of more senior college cops surrounding a younger colleague and quizzing him to help him prep for the Boston police exam.)

    So, yeah, Tensing is a little disposable, in that he's just starting out and is more or less a minor league rookie. It's easier to write him off as someone unfit for police work.

    On the other hand, what Tensing did IS outrageous, and the evidence is glaring. The DA is also voicing the values of that other police culture I'm talking about, the tradition in law enforcement that views people like Tensing as unprofessional and unfit. Too many of the cops take the side of people like Darren Wilson, but there are also cops who see the Darren Wilsons, Ray Tensings, and so forth as terrible police officers who never went about their jobs in the right way.

    Thanks. I think you are right about the different cultures within any police force and I remember that you have more to base that belief on than most people do theirs. 

    The head of the Fraternal Order of Ploce is one person interviewed by The NYT. He thinks that the previous episode of police misconduct will be the last. He is always disappointed. The FOP has to take responsibility for recurrent decisions to have cops with a history of abuse back on the streets. Police unions like those of the NYPD petition to put bad cops back on the street.

    The FOP will always fight any reform that involves penalizing cops. I suppose that's the FOP's job, in the same way that it's the teachers' unions' job to defend tenure. The difference is that the FOB tends to draw support from across the political spectrum, which makes it harder to fight.

    As expected, the FOP of Ohio filed a grievance to get Tensing's job back.

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