The scenario was all too familiar: An unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer. The result was violent protest. An overmatched police force withheld information. There were police in riot gear, looting, tear gas, vandalism and curfews.
The youth shot in Cincinnati was 19-year-old Timothy Thomas. He was wanted for a number of nonviolent misdemeanors, mostly traffic related. When Thomas was spotted a foot-chase ensued. In a dark alley, the officer thought he saw Thomas reaching for a weapon and shot him. Thomas was unarmed and died.
Protests began two days later, when hundreds of protestors threw rocks and bottles at police. They chanted “fifteen black men” (the number of black men killed by the Cincinnati Police in the previous six years). Some protestors fired weapons, businesses were looted, and after it was all over it cost the city more than $10 million along with the enormous toll on police-community relations.
But thirteen years later, thanks to policy changes that resulted from those events, it has been reported that race relations in Cincinnati have improved.
Perhaps there’s some wisdom here for community leaders in St. Louis County and Ferguson...
Just a few weeks before the riots, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio and a few other organizations had sued St. Louis County, alleging 30 years of racial profiling.
For example, here are some the that things that were done in Cincinnati:
- Numerous changes were made to police protocol. Officers are now trained in low-light situations — like confronting a suspect at night in an alley, as was the case in Thomas’s death.
- They created a Citizens Complaint Authority to investigate incidents when officers used serious force.
- They instructed officers to build relationships with the community by soliciting feedback with residents and using all available information to find solutions to problems before necessarily resorting to a law enforcement response.
- In response, the ACLU of Ohio hailed the changes “one of the most innovative plans ever devised to improve police-community relations.”
These new policies have not fixed all of the racial problems in Cincinnati, but they have improved them. What Cincinnati did was not “rocket science.” We have shelves of books and studies and experiences on how to improve police-community relations. And one of the major things police can DO is to begin to honestly and openly communicate with their communities. Act fairly and respectfully. Establish trusting relationships with those whom they serve. Select smart, well-trained officers who are controlled in their use of force, honest, courteous to everyone and willing to walk and talk with those whom they police.
It’s not that difficult but it will take time and patience. Let’s hope the people of color in our country give us a chance!
What essentially happened in Cincinnati was that the police and the community sat at the table and hammered out an agreement. Then the police acted on it.
The same thing can happen in Ferguson.
Former Police Chief Thomas Streicher who helped Cincinnati recover says the same cooperation is needed in Ferguson to defuse the situation and rebuild trust between the community and the police. “They have to engage the entire community and make them a part of this resolution process with every effort from this point forward. If they don’t do that they will fail.”
Again, these are not new problems, only repressed ones — to learn more about the causes of violence in America, read the Kerner Commission Report. Unfortunately, it is still relevant!
[This blog is based on an online news article by Laura Maggi. To read the full article, CLICK HERE.]