Prudent men know police are afraid, too

April 21, 2001|By Gregory Kane

MY SON, having had several run-ins with the police, doesn't care much for them. But he takes pride in his belief that he does understand them, at least a little.

"One thing I learned," he said of his two arrests and numerous stop-and-frisk incidents: "The best way to come out of the situation is to do exactly what they [police] tell you."

The reason, he said, is simple.

"They're scared, too," he observed. He told of his first arrest for handgun possession, when a cop stopped him on our front porch. He noticed that the hands of the officer who frisked him were literally shaking. No reason they shouldn't have. I know my son is relatively harmless and couldn't hit the broad side of an aircraft carrier with a handgun of any kind, but police had no way of knowing that. Still, we civilians feel fear is an emotion that doesn't apply to police.

In Cincinnati two weeks ago, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas failed to observe the rule my son learned seven years ago. He ran from police when ordered to stop. Officer Stephen Roach says he thought Thomas had a gun and fired. Thomas died, protesters claimed yet another injustice against black folks and three days of rioting followed. The furor continues.

We've heard the usual wail from black American leadership by now. Blacks in Cincinnati have had problems with police for at least 10 years. Fifteen black men have died at the hands of police there since 1995. Poor, beleaguered African-Americans are at risk from racist cops.

I hate to put a damper on this pity party, but probably 95 percent of police shootings are justified. And that figure is more than likely low.

Take our own beloved Charm City. Here, a small cluster of blacks, specialists in the field of how us po' colored folks are unceasingly and horribly oppressed, still claim the 1997 shooting death of James Quarles -- armed with a knife, bent over in a crouching position and quite ready to slice Officer Charles Smothers to ribbons -- was unjustified.

Larry Hubbard, a career thug -- his description of himself, not mine -- grabbed an officer's gun. The officer's partner shot Hubbard. Another injustice! Thus howl the members of the Great African-American League of the Perpetually Oppressed.

The only police shootings that should arouse suspicion or wrath are those in which the suspect was unarmed. Thomas had no weapon. But how many suspects in the other 14 deaths at the hands of Cincinnati cops were unarmed?

Lt. Ray Ruberg of the Cincinnati Police Department's public information office provided the details. Seven suspects had a gun, including one who had wrested away a police officer's gun. (Remember Larry Hubbard?). One had a knife -- shades of James Quarles -- another had a brick and one threatened an officer with a board that had a nail protruding from it. In eight of those incidents the officers were exonerated, although the officer in the brick incident was advised he should have been carrying his baton.

Two incidents involved suspects and cars. Officers Michael Miller III and Brent McCurley shot Michael Carpenter in March 1999. They were given 40 hours of training and a written reprimand for not taking precautions to avoid being in a position where the car could run them over. But for those who protest that a car can't be a weapon, consider the second incident that involved an automobile. Officer Kevin Crayon was trying to stop Courtney Mathis from stealing a car. The officer had his arm caught in the vehicle as Mathis sped off. Crayon fired and killed Mathis, but was thrown clear of the car and into another. He died as well.

Besides Thomas, there were two incidents where suspects were unarmed. Darrell Price struggled with Officers Keven Osuna and Samuel Igel. The officers sprayed Mace on Price, which had no effect. They wrestled him to the ground and placed Price face down on a stretcher. He went into cardiac arrest and died. Both officers were exonerated.

Roger Owensby struggled with Officers Robert Jorg and Patrick Caton. He was subdued and died on his way to the hospital. The coroner listed his official cause of death as "mechanical asphyxia." Ruberg said the coroner would have to explain what that means, but a common-sense definition might lead skeptics to conclude that it means strangling with a device other than the hands. Ruberg said that a grand jury has indicted both officers in the incident, which might indicate the jurors were skeptical as well. The trial is scheduled for October.

"The violence must stop on both sides," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said when he visited Cincinnati in recent days. "These people have appealed for 10 years to show there's something wrong with the Cincinnati Police Department. We're here to show that."

Not by focusing on police shootings, you aren't. Cincinnati police killed an average of two black men a year from Feb. 1, 1995, to December 31, 2000. The Cincinnati Police Department didn't have other stats for 1995, but for the years 1996 through 2000 and the first three months of 2001, the statistics show that Cincinnatians snuffed each other at a rate more than 10 times that of police killing civilians. A total of 163 Cincinnatians were killed during that time. (That's about half a year's worth for Baltimore, which highlights the absurdity of folks here getting upset about what's happening there.)

Cincinnati police kept no racial breakdown of the homicides, but other crime statistics show that 94 percent of black homicide victims nationwide are killed by other blacks, not the police.

It should not surprise us if it transpires that a small minority of Cincinnati's African-Americans displayed some very selective outrage.

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