JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
On July 19, then-University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing shot motorist Samuel Dubose in the head, killing him. Another white law enforcement officer killing another unarmed and quite lawful black woman or man, and again in Cincinnati where at least 15 black women or men have been killed by police in the last five years. Today, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters announced an indictment of Officer Tensing on the charge of murder with a second count of voluntary manslaughter, and then finally released the following video from the officer’s chest-worn camera. We warn viewers of the graphic nature of the footage, but here it is now.
BALL: To discuss this incident and related issues is Iris Roley, long-time Cincinnati-based activist and member of the Cincinnati Black United Front. She joins us now from Cincinnati, and we welcome her now to the Real News Network. Welcome, Iris, to the Real News.
IRIS ROLEY, ACTIVIST: Thank you.
BALL: So we heard some harsh words from the prosecutor saying that he is indicting Officer Tensing on murder charges, saying that it was a purposeful killing of another person. He said that the police officer in the stop itself was a crap stop, as he called it earlier, and should have never occurred, given that the stop itself only took place according to Tensing because Dubose was missing the front license plate on his car.
Tell us what people are feeling there in the street, what has been the response, and how do you feel like this fits into the context of what’s been happening there in the last several years? And even going back to 2001 and the killing of Timothy Thomas.
ROLEY: I think people were very, very–this was a morbid, morbid time in the city of Cincinnati. As the country knows, we’ve been working very hard to reform our City of Cincinnati Police Department properly with the appropriate training, the appropriate community involvement, the appropriate oversight. So for a university officer to kill someone in this manner was extremely egregious. And it just, it was a blow to all of the work that we’ve done. It was a blow to the university, it was a blow to the students, it was a blow to the family and his children.
Jared, let me tell you, I spent the afternoon with some of Samuel’s children. I do know family members in the Dubose family. And we had to watch that video together, and it’s a very graphic video to watch. So it was very hard to watch it. But finally they saw what actually happened to their father, and it was just hard to watch their reactions. It was just hard for them to see. That will be a lasting, impactful image that they have in their head when Officer Tensing killed their dad over not having a front license plate.
So people are shocked and stunned. But I’ll also tell you this, Jared. People were also surprised by the words of the prosecutor. As you all know in your city, in your town, one of the common denominators that we have across the country in particular for African-Americans is that we have very little faith in the prosecutors’ office. We had very little faith that an officer would be indicted and we had very little faith that he would use such strong language. And today our prosecutor did.
Now in 2001 we had the same, similar incident with Timothy Thomas. We had a different prosecutor who did indict two officers, but indicted with misdemeanor charges. So for those of us who have been around, who have been trying to hold prosecutors’ feet to the fire and hold elected officials accountable while continuously fighting for change and reform, this was welcome, today, to hear the language from a prosecutor.
BALL: Yeah as much as that is true, and I felt the same way watching the press conference, that I felt it was a shocking departure from what most prosecutors say in these incidents. I mean, he went on to say, as I mentioned a minute ago, he said that it was a chicken-crap stop, that this officer should have never been an officer. He said–.
But one of the things that Deters did say that I think should be some cause of concern is that he said that this doesn’t happen here in the United States. He said it maybe happens in Afghanistan or somewhere like that, but it doesn’t happen here. And he also sought to draw–which we all clearly know is not true. But he also sought to draw a distinction between Tensing being a university police officer and not a Cincinnati police officer. In other words he wanted to draw a distinction between what he said were the good cops of Cincinnati and the poorly trained, unprepared, and what should have never been a cop, as he said, university police and officer Tensing.
So I’m wondering again in the aftermath of the 2001 uprising that was big in Cincinnati, that had a major impact on this country, it was almost the Ferguson before Ferguson, I’m wondering if that distinction is going to be a problem or should be seen as a problem. That is, trying to say that Cincinnati police officers are better or–and police officers in general in this country are better than university police officers and sort of putting it on that.
ROLEY: Now, while I can’t speak to the psyche of the prosecutor, as I just told you and just indicated, that he’s used some very harsh language when there’s African-Americans and he perceived that they are breaking the law. I mean, I can go from calling African-Americans animals and unsalvageable, and soulless. I mean, very harsh language.
So I can’t give you the psyche of Joe Deters. All I can tell you today, the language that he used was pretty strong, and I know that myself and others have called on him to use that same insidious and [spiteful] language that he’s used on African-Americans on Officer Tensing.
Now, one of the other [fillers] inside of what he said is going to be a problem, probably so. But my focus will be, and others, our focus will be on making sure that he utilizes his office to the greatest extent feasible in making sure that there is a conviction. An indictment is one thing but a conviction is a total other, and that’s what we’re looking for. So hopefully the country can see, and maybe this will deter police officers, peace officers, across the nation whether you’re on a university campus, whether you’re at a hospital, because they patrol one of the hospitals as well, or whether you’re on the streets is that when you do wrong you should be indicted, and you should be held to the same standard as anyone else that will commit murder where you step out of policy and procedural guidelines.
So I’m hoping that that goes across the country moreso than that other stuff that you just talked about. Some of the things, Jared, that he said, it kind of went in one ear and out the other because again I was with the children and the mother of the children. And it was very difficult to hear some of the things that Mr. Deter said. Of course I will go back and look at it. And after you watch the video, it’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen, again, in all of my years of working.
Let me just say this also, Jared. The Cincinnati PD is not perfect, at all. And if you ask the communities have been impacted by biased and very negative and very traditional types of policing, you’ll get a myriad of answers. But where we have gotten better is that we have oversight that clearly can be utilized across the country. We were on our way to Baltimore when one of our officers was killed in the line of duty, and we had to cancel that trip. And the young man that did commit that crime, another officer came and killed him.
So we have dynamics. The situation is, how do you see the problem? So what we’ve been able to do in Cincinnati is we’ve been able to hammer some things out. We’ve been able to hammer out how and where officers come from, making sure that citizens, [interviewing] panels, making sure we understand what the training looks like and that our input is given, and making sure the consequences are the greatest extent feasible, that fit whatever behavior an officer will do.
So we’ve been working at it, Jared. We’re not done here in Cincinnati. We’re not perfect. It is not utopia for the police and black people in Cincinnati. But it definitely is better than where it was in 2001.
BALL: Well, especially since the collaborative agreement that I think you were just referencing, that was established after the 2001 killing of Timothy Thomas, the University of Cincinnati now says that it’s going to join that agreement. Is that correct? Is that seen as a step forward?
ROLEY: Let me just–. Yeah, well let me just clear up some history. We filed in federal court, we filed a private lawsuit in federal court in April. I mean I’m sorry, in March of 2001. Timothy Thomas was murdered approximately two and a half weeks later. So we thought we were being proactive in changing the way the police department policed in the city of Cincinnati. And Timothy Thomas became our 15th unarmed black man. So we thought we were being proactive in that we can stop any more murders in the city of Cincinnati. So I want you to know that a lot of hard work went into that. And unfortunately Timothy Thomas’ murder did spark the community to say enough is enough.
But we were already in federal court. And so our collaborative came out of the federal court lawsuit, and also our memorandum of agreement between the Department of Justice and the city of Cincinnati. So we have two unique agreements. We have the one with the DOJ and then the collaborative which has a class attached to it. It says all African-Americans or black people or who, people who are perceived as such who live, walk, ride on the thoroughfares and streets of the city of Cincinnati who will come into the contact of the Cincinnati Police Department and are any of [their ages], and then the last line says, all others. Those all others are anyone that are killed or mishandled by Cincinnati Police Department and their ages.
The ages is very, very critical in this piece, Jared. Because I take this personally. This murder happened on the city streets, the city of Cincinnati gave the authority to the university, to police on the street, so they are culpable as well in this murder of Samuel Dubose.
BALL: Well Iris Roley, thank you very much in joining us and helping clarify what’s going on there. We will look to be back in touch with you and others as this story continues, but thank you for joining us here at the Real News Network.
ROLEY: Any time. Thank you so very much.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News Network. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. An as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind, everybody.
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