Nights of Outrage at Police Murder of Timothy Thomas

Cincinnati: It's Right to Rebel!

Revolutionary Worker #1099, April 22, 2001, posted at

"It's been going on for years. We did everything to make peace, to be peaceful with them. And we still die. Timothy Thomas is now dead. So, until we come to a conclusion where nobody dies, you've got to feel us. What happened this week is our way of feelings. Now we got the attention we so rightly deserve. I want to know what happened to the warning shots they shot into the air. Where did that go? I mean it is never used anymore. NOW IT'S STRAIGHT DEATH! Just kill 'em, they're expendable. That's how I feel: we're being hunted. I mean, life is already hard enough, they done add fuel to the fire. The police done their killings for so long. They steady shaking their head and promising, "We're doing this, we doing that." But on the streets, they're doing something totally different. Still killing. What does it have to take for it all to stop?"

T.K., 32-year-old Black man

"The whole country now knows the Cincinnati police force is killing Black men. The police have killed 15 Black men since 1995 and only two police officers have been indicted for the murders. They say all the other killings have been justified. Timothy Thomas was running from the police, he was scared. The police force is telling us we don't have the right to be scared, we don't have the right to run. Why would he not run? What reason did he have to think he was not going to be beaten to death? And now the cop who killed Timothy is getting a paid leave. Our police are hitmen, hired and paid hitmen. And they teach racism in the police academy. What happened to Timothy Thomas is what our city is. The rich white people in this town who run everything accept it and promote it."

Carol, a white woman in her 20s from the Over-the-Rhine area

"The youth feel a whole new sense of empowerment from taking on the enemy. The youth got a lot of hatred for this system that brutalizes and kills them and denies any kind of future. The level of repression is intense--cops roll four cars deep with three pigs in a car, sometimes sticking their guns out the window. You can see the fear in the pigs' eyes though. And the courage of the people in Over-the-Rhine is incredible--going up against the police day after day, despite the curfew, risking arrest or worse. Plenty of youth showed me their bruises from rubber bullets or lead beanbags. It makes me think of the struggle in Palestine. You can see the potential for taking this system down just by how willing the youth are to put it all on the line just to fight back."

Member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, Cleveland

Timothy Thomas stepped out of the apartment he shared with his fiancé, Monique Wilcox, and their 3-month-old son, Tywon. He headed to the store for a pack of cigarettes. It was 2 a.m., early Saturday morning, April 7.

Timothy was 19 years old, and life was looking pretty good. He had just earned his high school diploma and gotten a new job. He and Monique were planning their wedding.

Minutes later he was dead--slumped in an alleyway, shot in the chest at close range by a police bullet.

For the last week, as we go to press, rebellion has shaken Cincinnati. For three days and nights, people took the streets and confronted the police. Even after the authorities put the city on lockdown, people found ways to resist.

This uprising put a powerful spotlight on police murder in the USA. The reports pressed their way into the headlines across the country and around the world. The authorities have been exposed--their murder and lies have been shredded by the courageous demand for justice in the streets.

The following article is based on reports from an RW reporter in Cincinnati.

Coming Together

"They come on us, asking where we live, ask for ID. Then we go into another community, they say we trespassing. Even in your hood they treat us like we're trespassing. Enough is enough! This killing has got to stop. Fucking stop killing us!"

Black youth in Cincinnati
speaking to the RW

"We can only call this killing murder, and it is typical of the epidemic of law enforcement murders that is intensifying across the U.S. For too long cops have swaggered through our communities acting like they have a license to brutalize and kill. Yet when the people stand up and resist, they are condemned by the authorities and the media. The people of Cincinnati were right to resist, and we in the October 22nd Coalition salute you. We express particular solidarity and support of the youth and those organizations which have taken to the streets in the assertion and defense of the human right of self-defense against years of murder, repression, and criminalization."

Efia Nwangaza, for the Executive Committee of the October 22nd Coalition
to Stop Police Brutality, Repression,
and the Criminalization of a Generation

After the murder of Timothy Thomas on Saturday, outrage spread rapidly. Cincinnati is a small city of 300,000 people, 43% African-American. People here know about police murder. Since 1995, the cops have killed 15 Black men, and not a single white person.

Over and over, people told the RW that the Black community has "been to the table" with the local power structure over this brutality. But nothing has changed. In fact the attacks have intensified. For the last year there has been a reign of terror aimed at Black people--harassment, arrests, constant disrespect. And the killings have intensified: Timothy Thomas is the fifth Black man killed by police since September.

Refuse & Resist! in Cincinnati wrote: "His death ripped at the hearts and minds of a community living in a police state."

The police refused to make any official statement but, meanwhile, they leaked their unbelievable justifications to the media. They claimed that Officer Stephen Roach had recognized Timothy as someone with outstanding warrants, and chased him for blocks. When Timothy was cornered, Roach claims that he (an armed cop) was the one who was in danger--reporting that he "thought Thomas was reaching for a weapon in his waistband." Every detail here is typical police justification for cold-blooded murder. Timothy was unarmed. And now, no one will ever hear from him what really happened.

Timothy's warrants were all misdemeanors, overwhelmingly traffic violations for offenses. Five for "driving without a seatbelt"? What is all that but harassment for "driving while Black"? And for this, a young man was executed in the street?!

On Monday, April 9, hundreds of people packed the City Council--family and friends of Timothy, and people from the community, including members of Refuse & Resist!, Anti-Racist Action, the Black United Front, the New Black Panther Party and other organizations. They got an insulting stonewall treatment from the authorities--who refused to even release Officer Roach's statement on the killing.

T.K. told the RW: "The first night, I was downtown, in the City Council meeting on Monday. It started being angry at the results they were getting. The city authorities kept saying 'I don't know.' And people said, ' You have all this equipment, all this force, and you don't know?!'" Timothy's mother, Angela Leisure, stood next to his younger brother Terry and bitterly asked city officials: "Here is my other son. He is 16 and has a traffic ticket. Are you going to kill him now?"

R&R in Cincinnati wrote: "The meeting was shut down. Council members were barred from leaving the chambers by blocking the exits. From City Hall the resisters moved en masse to the front doors of District 1 Police Station. Riot cops barred everyone from entering and occupying the building, but the people of the community made it clear that the streets were theirs."

T.K. told the RW, "Then people took the streets, at least 700, and they were very angry Black people, ready to do something to whatever because of the tension that the police caused. They marched to District 1, down by the projects. That's the worst police district of all. They are the killers. They stay up on us in the district that has mostly blacks living there. At District 1 the police shot lead beanbags and used tear gas, but the people stayed anyway. They had too much energy to leave. Some went away briefly to buy cheap glasses to wear against the gas, or to get more bottles to throw, but they came back. There was all different ages, like 16 to 32."

Cincinnati R&R! tells what happened then: "The resisters moved as a massive family from the station to the spot where Timothy was murdered and paid a rousing homage to the fallen brother. Thus began a two-hour march through the streets of Over-the-Rhine and the West End where the family gathered more people from the housing projects before moving down the trendy gentrified Main Street, halting business and traffic in the bohemian club district. The police couldn't touch, let alone stop, this march! The people had stood up and taken back their community! By nighttime, the resisters reconvened in front of the police station and set up camp. The building remains blocked by riot cops and horses. The atmosphere has turned from blind rage to a coming together of a community of resisters. There is a feeling of renewal!... Several people have rolled their cars in front of the station and pumped up the music. Everybody has the sweet taste of feeling some justice through their actions!"

The Rebellion Continues

"We don't wake up and just say 'We going to tear this shit up today.' Because we tired. Tired is tired. Spell it anyway, forwards or backwards, it's still going to say tired. Every time we get up from the table, they do something else, so we don't want the table no more. No, this is forced on us so we react this way."

A participant of the Cincinnati rebellion speaking to the RW

"The city has been very prejudiced. The cops do talk to us African Americans like we are a piece of shit. Like we still in slavery days. In terms of this week, I think it was beautiful and everything that happened this week needed to be done, everything."

A 38-year-old Black woman

"There is a war on young Black men in this country to murder them and get as many as possible incarcerated... If some policemen die I am not going to cry, because they are cold-blooded murderers. And the Black cops are just as bad. I don't blame these men for rioting, you can only beat someone so long before they fight back. They either die or they fight back. The Mayor is saying on the radio, 'The violence must stop.' Well, tell the police to stop killing people, then I'll stop advocating the violence. People are pissed that the city is tearing down housing projects, they have no place to go. They are also cutting women with kids off of welfare. There are no jobs.

"And now these cops think it's okay because they are using rubber bullets to shoot people. I saw those wounds, those are gunshot wounds. Who are they to shoot anybody? Hell, they tear-gassed a pregnant woman because she was cussing them out. There are lots of homeless people in Washington Park-- that's their home. Are these police trying to give them a place to live? Hell no! But they're shooting them with rubber bullets for being there.

"And the shit that got destroyed, It's all rebuildable. What's some glass breaking? You can replace that. But not the life of Timothy Thomas. His mama can't bring her baby back. They can board all this shit all they want to but Timothy Thomas is dead. And all those other men are dead at the hands of the police force.

"And why should these kids be civilly disobedient, peacefully protesting, when they don't have peace in their neighborhood. How do they know peace? They didn't learn it from the police. There was always a war in this country. This country was founded on war, on murder and violence and lies and it hasn't changed. People are saying fuck the chain, fuck everything else. I'm willing to die for this. The war has already started."

Carol speaking to the RW

Tuesday afternoon, people gathered again and found ways to confront the police. One crowd of youth marched down the street with their arms held up in the air in mock surrender, shouting defiantly "What are you going to do? Shoot us?"

Police intensified their firing to disperse the people. But rebellion spread to new areas. T.K. told the RW: "Black people in communities other than Over-the-Rhine said 'That's part of us. We should be doing the same shit.' And boom, there it goes--which is good! Instead of having one place, it's all over." The local radio station WLWT reported that the rebellion had spread to University Heights, Walnut Hills, Avondale, Evanston and Norwood.

As people were driven out of the downtown and away from the District 1 police station--the people took over residential streets, using debris as obstacles, and lit fires. Some stores were trashed and their contents were redistributed. According to the police, 66 people were arrested Tuesday night.

Wednesday night, the rebellion raged again--in defiance of intense police attack. The housing projects near District 1 headquarters emerged again as a storm center of the struggle.

One 9-year-old boy was rushed to the Children's Hospital after police shot him in the head with a lead beanbag. Various Black ministers were mobilized by the city government to help suppress the rebellion--with little effect.

At 11 p.m. on Thursday, a Cincinnati cop was hit by a bullet--though not seriously injured. Police claimed a Black man in his 50s had opened fire, then run off. Police reported 82 arrests on Wednesday night.

The Clampdown

Thursday morning, Cincinnati's Mayor Luken announced an all-out police clampdown to stop the continuing rebellion. He imposed a curfew on the city from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night and even ordered that evening services for Good Friday be canceled.

Curfew is a misleading word for what was unleashed. The Mayor's order was the lockdown of a city and a declaration of war. It was an open threat that you could get shot for being outside your house. One Black youth told the RW, "They be shooting with beanbags if you are outside during the curfew. They going for their head and face. Violate the curfew and they say you get shot, get $1,000 fine and a year in jail." State police and deputies were brought in from surrounding areas to reinforce the Cincinnati cops who were exhausted, frightened and deeply isolated from the people.

Mayor Luken justified his clampdown, saying his city was looking like Beirut. Then, sounding just like some Israeli spokesman threatening occupied Palestinians, Luken insisted there could only be new talks "after the violence stops." The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police claimed that even holding negotiations over police brutality would be giving in to "terrorists." President Bush called his Attorney General Ashcroft on Thursday to discuss ways of quieting the rebellion.

Meanwhile, it was widely reported that National Guard troops were being readied if the city's police could not contain the rebellion. This is itself a heavy threat, since everyone remembers how this notorious Ohio National Guard killed four antiwar students at Kent State in 1970.

For years, Black people have been murdered by Cincinnati police--and no President called to express concern. No Ohio governor "readied" his armed forces to protect the people from those killings. But now that the people have risen up, demanded justice and defied the authorities--now the whole power structure takes notice. Nightline brought in its cameras while, behind the scenes, the full armed force of the state was made ready. The guns are still aimed at the people. And their oppressors receive backing all the way from the White House.

Thursday night, helicopters clattered overhead, directing caravans of squad cars to any group of people spotted outdoors. Police shot, often without warning--in one case hitting a small child. It has been reported that over 150 people were arrested for curfew violations on Thursday night alone.

In the face of all that, people continued their resistance. Kids went out anyway--confronting the police with bottles and rocks and then disappearing into the night. Residents of all ages shouting defiantly at the police from their porches.

Saying Good-byes

Timothy Thomas' funeral was held on Saturday, a week after he was killed. The city had been locked down for two days, and so this funeral became a place to make another powerful statement against the police killings in Cincinnati. Over a thousand people showed up, packing the New Prospect Baptist Church and filling the street outside.

Our RW reporter wrote from Cincinnati:

"As I was heading in to the funeral ceremonies for Timothy, a youth was coming out holding a sign that read, "Prepare 4 Revolution" and carrying a tattered American flag. Two Black women in front of me in line were talking about how much they feared for their own teenage sons in this epidemic of police murder.

Many in this crowd were in tears as they approached Timothy's casket. Some knew him, and had come to say a good-bye. And others, who had never met him, felt they too had lost a friend or brother.

As the service ended, I walked down the steps and saw the crowd gathering again outside. Some youth boldly wore T-shirts with Timothy's picture--and on the back "No Justice No Peace! Fuck the Police." Signs were held up high. One said "Justice or Else!" Another demanded, "Police: Stop Killing Black Men."

There was anger that the mayor and governor had dared come here--as each man commanded armed forces aimed at the people. One youth said to me, "They are the problem!" Another added, "They talk about calm, but never call for the police to stop the killing."

We were only a few blocks away from the spot where Timothy was gunned down. And not far away, a long grim line of riot police were prepared to confront any attempt to march downtown.

For a week oppressed people in Cincinnati had honored his memory, in hard struggle against Timothy's killers. For a week they had forced the world to take notice--had inspired millions and shaken their enemies. And today, as a bright hot sun beamed down on us , the people gave their last good-byes to Timothy. And groups of youth headed straight for downtown--to confront the cops and continue the struggle. It has been a time where sorrow gave rise to heroes. What comes next is still unwritten."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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