Misdemeanor for Police Murder

Revolutionary Worker #1104, May 27, 2001, posted at

In the days before the May 7 announcement by a grand jury on the indictment of the Cincinnati cop who killed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, the city authorities made open preparations for a clampdown. They made it clear that they were ready to come down hard if a rebellion broke out again. They massed hundreds of riot police. The state police were on call. On the Saturday before the grand jury decision, they had ministers going around to preach "calm" in Over-the-Rhine--the neighborhood where Timothy was killed and where the rebellion was centered. And Mayor Luken said he would re-impose a curfew the moment another rebellion started.

The authorities also used the fact that there is a federal investigation of police brutality in the city to try to convince people the system is working for their justice. But in those days before the grand jury indictment, many people told the RW that they thought the power structure and their police will never change, no matter what kind of investigations they do. And many said that they expected there would be no charges against the cop, or the charges would be very light--and they were right.

On Monday, May 7, hundreds of people--mostly Black youth--gathered outside the county building for the grand jury decision on what charges would be filed against Stephen Roach, the white cop who gunned down Timothy Thomas on April 7. Roach claims he recognized Timothy as someone with outstanding warrants, chased him for blocks, and finally cornered him. Roach claims that he (an armed cop!) was in danger because he thought Timothy was "reaching for a weapon in his waistband." This is a typical justification for cold-blooded police murder. Timothy was unarmed. All of his warrants were for misdemeanors, mainly for traffic violations--in other words, harassment for "driving while black." For this, the police stole Timothy's life.

County Prosecutor Michael Allen announced the grand jury's outrageous decision: misdemeanor for police murder! Roach was indicted on two misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business. The most Roach could get if convicted on these charges would be nine months in jail. Police officials said that Roach, who was on paid leave, would be returned to desk duty.

Allen declared, "Not every homicide is a purposeful act. Not every homicide constitutes murder." But when a cop wielding a gun runs down an unarmed youth and shoots him at close range--what is this if not a cold-blooded street execution?

After Allen announced the indictments, the anger and rage boiled up among the people standing in the rain. About 400 people took off on a march to the police headquarters and faced off against the riot cops. People held signs saying, "Is a Black Man's Life Worth a Misdemeanor?", "Jail The Killer Cop!" and "Where is justice? Why do they shoot and kill us?"

Over a hundred youth took off through the streets of Over-the-Rhine to denounce the grand jury decision. Bottles were thrown, dumpsters overturned, and at least one police cruiser's window was smashed. The youth confronted and taunted the police for hours into the night. There were reports that a police substation in the Corryville section of the city was torched and "187" (police code for murder) was written on the building. Corryville, near the University of Cincinnati, is where four Black people--two of them mentally ill--have been killed by the police since 1994.

Through that night into the next day, outrage poured out about the grand jury's decision. Angela Leisure, Timothy Thomas' mother, said, "I don't feel like justice was served. I feel it was not severe enough for the severity of what he did. He took a life. Negligence--that doesn't cut it for me.... It's very hard for me to call for peace because there is no peace inside of me. Who's to say it won't happen again?" She said that this decision clears the way for many more Black youth to be killed by cops in Cincinnati.

Over and over again, people pointed out that while Roach only got charged with misdemeanors, over 800 people were arrested during the rebellion. Over 550 are still in jail--63 are charged with felony counts that could lead to 25-year jail sentences, with bail set as high as $100,000. And some 500 curfew violators are still in jail awaiting trial--while the cop Roach is on the streets on $2,000 bail.

Since May 7, there have been various protests against the verdict. On May 8, hundreds of protesters took over Fountain Square (center of the city) without a permit. Later they staged a 40-minute sit-down protest at an upscale restaurant and marched to city hall where they took over a meeting of city officials.

Every Friday a mixed crowd of students, professors, activists, and Black youth from different areas of the city have rallied at the county jail to demand freedom for the people jailed for the rebellion and jail for the killer cop. On May 18, protesters disrupted a police rally for cops killed on duty. The protesters raised the fact that since 1995 the Cincinnati cops have killed 15 Black men--five since last September. Two protesters were arrested.

There is a call for groups and people throughout Ohio and beyond to rally at Fountain Square on June 2 at 11:30 a.m. against police brutality and the epidemic of police murder of Black men in Cincinnati. The action is being called by the Black United Front, the Maurice McCracken Memorial Committee, Refuse and Resist! and others.

During the three days and nights of rebellion in April, the people gave their verdict in the streets on the murdering police. Even after the authorities put the city on lockdown, the people found ways to resist. The rebellion put a powerful spotlight on police murder in the USA.

The grand jury decision showed once again that this is a system of injustice and oppression. A Black woman activist told the RW about her reaction to the misdemeanor indictments: "This is a police society. Police go to target practice to kill you. That's their job."

A white woman in her 20s who live in Over-the-Rhine said, "To me, the whole justice system is modern, organized, legal slavery. The authorities wouldn't say that, but if you look at the statistics, that's what it is... Look, they let a white man off, didn't put him in jail when he murdered a Black man. It's like saying, 'Go out and kill Black people, it's okay.' It's a message to the white cops... I know it's going to keep on going until we take the power out of these cops' hands. These cops are nothing but hired murderers, and they get away with it."

An organizer with the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality told the RW, "Forces saying to lay down until the federal investigation is done or the trial is over are wrong. We need to stand up and demand the killer cop be jailed."

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