Revolutionary Worker #1121, October 7, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
"Officer Roach, you're free to go."
Judge Ralph E. Winkler,
Cincinnati, September 26
"He killed my son. All the rest is smoke and mirrors."
Angela Leisure, mother of Timothy Thomas
It was 2 a.m., April 7, when a dozen cops chased Timothy Thomas into an alley in Cincinnati. Timothy, 19 years old, had just stepped out to pick up some things at a corner store. And then he was dead, over nothing, shot in the heart by Officer Stephen Roach. Timothy was alone and unarmed.
After Timothy died, people rose up in Cincinnati for three days, in the most powerful rebellion since L.A.'s 1992 uprising over police brutality.
Now comes a new injustice. The system has examined this case. The system's judge, Winkler, has heard the evidence. And the verdict of this judge and the legal system, is very clear: The cop did nothing wrong!
A Black teenager lies dead, and the judge tells the packed courtroom, "Police Officer Roach's action was reasonable."
A Green Light for Police Murder
The charges brought against Roach were themselves an outrage. The state did not charge him with murder--but only with two misdemeanors--"negligent homicide" and "obstructing official business." These charges carried a maximum sentence of only nine months in prison.
Roach was given the choice between a judge-only process and a jury trial. And like all cops do, he picked the judge. And the judge he got found Roach's deadly shooting to be "reasonable"--and essentially found Timothy guilty of his own death. All that Officer Roach now faces are "departmental administrative proceedings" from his police superiors.
Judge Winkler simply announced that the shooting was "not a culpable criminal act." Why not? Judge Winkler said, "The reasonableness of an officer's action should be judged from the officers on the scene perspective of the facts.... If an officer mistakenly believed that a suspect was likely to fight back, the officer might be justified in using more force than was actually necessary. In such situations, an officer's action should not be subjected to 20/20 hindsight or Monday morning quarterbacking."
Further, Judge Winkler blamed Timothy, not Roach, for the shooting. Winkler said to the packed courtroom: "This shooting was a split-second reaction to a very dangerous situation created by Timothy Thomas."
What exactly had Timothy supposedly done to "create" this situation? First, he was a young Black man in a poor Black community. Winkler specifically described the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood as an "especially dangerous section of Cincinnati"--which can only mean that he thinks it is especially reasonable for cops to shoot people here.
Second, Timothy ran away from the cops. (Does anyone looking at this shooting and this verdict wonder why a young Black man would run from the cops?)
Then, when Timothy had stopped running, he reached down to pull up his baggy sweatpants which were slipping off. Even Stephen Roach himself could not decide what, exactly, was deadly and dangerous about pulling up your pants. First Roach told investigators that he thought Thomas had a gun. Then, he abandoned that story. His new story was that Thomas had come around a corner, startling him and causing his finger to jerk on the trigger. During the trial police homicide investigator Charles Beaver testified that he didn't believe Roach's story.
In Winkler's courtroom, the details of all this didn't matter. The fact that Roach lied and then rewrote his lies didn't matter. The fact that the other cops said they saw no reason to draw their weapons didn't matter.
In his decision Judge Winkler said that "any different statements attributed to Officer Roach were not substantial and the statements did not hamper or impede the police investigation of the incident in any way."
Winkler twice suggested that Timothy was somehow a menace to society. He said: "Timothy Thomas was not unknown to the Cincinnati police. He had 14 open warrants." These "open warrants" were, in fact, all for misdemeanors--mainly traffic violations and two citations for running from police. In a country where young Black and Latino men are routinely harassed, busted and given a police record for nothing but hanging out or driving on the streets--this judge suggests that being "not unknown" to the police justifies a 9 mm bullet in the heart.
Judge Winkler dared say: "Police Officer Roach's history was unblemished until this incident. Timothy Thomas's history was not unblemished."
In the end, these facts are clear: Officer Roach committed murder; Timothy Thomas committed traffic violations. Officer Roach is back on the job, running a police lot for impounded cars; Timothy Thomas is dead and deeply missed. And the system has ruled, again, that police must have the right to shoot unarmed people, and no one should have the right to second-guess such shootings.
Hard, Hard, Hard
"Who's going to be next? Police officers are judge, jury and executioner all at the same time."
Howard Duncan, Black man outside
the Hamilton County courthouse
"I'm scared to go up to police and ask the time. I might catch a bullet in the head."
Nicole Zanders, 18-year-old
whose cousin was killed by a cop
"All this talk about peace and healing has been just that, all talk.... I don't know why I expected more."
Reverend Damon Lynch.
"Justice means 'just us.' I wanted my son to be the last --but he won't be the last. This situation will happen again unless something changes."
"Wait till tonight!"
A youth yelling at copsoutside the courthouse
People in Cincinnati had braced themselves for this verdict. Thomas was the 15th Black man killed in encounters with Cincinnati police since 1995. No cop has ever been charged before in these killings.
But no matter how little people expect from this system, such a heartless verdict still hits hard. Your lives, your loves, your sorrows, your hopes--mean nothing in that courtroom, as the judge pats the killer cop and sends him back to work.
People packed in the courtroom let out a low moan as Winkler released Roach. Timothy's mother, Angela Leisure, slumped for a moment, then gathered her strength and dignity to denounce the verdict to reporters. Anger and shock rippled through the crowd.
A homeless activist said, "People were angry but not surprised. Some were crying and others frustrated... Someone mentioned that with events of September 11 there is all this talk of national unity, but don't pretend there is unity in Cincinnati."
Much had been done to suppress any fresh outbreak of rebellion. The city authorities had carefully planned a full-bore clampdown. Riot police were mobilized around the courthouse in large numbers armed with heavy flashlight clubs and shotguns. The city was shut down early, businesses and workplaces shut down early, bars and restaurants closed.
That night an area-wide curfew made it illegal to be outdoors. Anyone on the street was subject to immediate arrest.
Meanwhile, the spokespeople of the city's Black middle class had been mobilized to argue against street rebellion. Black preachers and lawyers were on the air and in the streets urging patience and non-confrontation. There was, they insisted, a "correct way to protest"--peaceful vigils and votes. There was a chance of getting a Black mayor in the November elections and any rebellion would damage that hope, they said.
There were angry rallies held outside the courthouse and at City Hall after Judge Winkler's shameful verdict. Hundreds of people protested in Over-the-Rhine. People gathered on the streets, shouted at the cops, talked and debated.
As night came, a state of emergency was declared. As one reporter wrote: "Demonstrating was no longer a right." In defiance of all the police threats, groups of youth went into the streets. The city's top cop growled that his police were seeking out those who "are renegades and just not going to adhere to any type of law enforcement."
Much of what happened that night is still not known outside of Cincinnati. There were reports of shots being fired in several areas and a car set on fire. Vehicles of the hated news media were targeted with rocks and bottles. It was reported that groups of 50 to 100 youth took the streets throughout the night. At least 30 fires were put out, mainly in garbage cans. About 40 people were arrested over the next two days--mostly in Over-the-Rhine.
Cincinnati's Mayor Charlie Luken was filled with self-congratulation. The court had released Roach, and there had not been a full-scale rebellion. Luken took a page from President Bush--he went on WLW radio and told the city, "Go out and go to dinner, watch a movie, go to a play. Go have fun."
Timothy Thomas lies dead. His murder at the hands of Officer Roach is declared "justifiable homicide." Riot police clamp down on the Black community and dismiss the people's outrage.
And some mother's son is gonna be dying in Afghanistan to defend this "way of life."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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