Revolutionary Worker #1123, October 21, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
April 7, 2001--2 a.m. A dozen Cincinnati cops chase Timothy Thomas into an alley. Officer Stephen Roach shoots the 19-year-old in the heart. Timothy dies alone and unarmed.
For three days, people in Cincinnati rise up in rebellion, taking to the streets against this cold-blooded murder, in the most powerful rebellion since L.A.'s 1992 uprising over police brutality.
September 26, 2001. Judge Ralph E. Winkler comes down with his verdict: "Officer Roach, you're free to go." He tells the packed courtroom, "Police Officer Roach's action was reasonable."
Angela Leisure, Timothy Thomas' mother, voices the sentiment many others are feeling: "He killed my son. All the rest is smoke and mirrors."
To begin with, Roach wasn't even charged with murder. He faced only two misdemeanors--"negligent homicide" and "obstructing official business"--with a maximum prison sentence of only nine months. Roach avoided a jury trial by picking a judge-only process. Now, for the murder of Timothy Thomas, all he faces are "departmental administrative proceedings."
Judge Winkler said, "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." He essentially found Timothy guilty of his own death, saying: "This shooting was a split-second reaction to a very dangerous situation created by Timothy Thomas."
What did Timothy Thomas do to supposedly "create a dangerous situation"?
A young Black man in a poor Black neighborhood, where cops act like an occupying army... Does anyone looking at this shooting and this verdict wonder why Timothy Thomas might run from the cops?
Roach told investigators he thought Thomas had a gun. Then, he abandoned that story and came up with a new one. He said Timothy had come around a corner, startling him and causing his finger to jerk on the trigger. A police homicide investigator testified at the trial that he didn't believe Roach's story. But in Winkler's courtroom, 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.
Winkler suggested Timothy was somehow a menace to society--because he had 14 open warrants. In fact, these warrants were all for misdemeanors--mainly traffic violations and two citations for running from police.
The judge declared Roach "free to go."
Timothy Thomas was the 15th Black man killed in encounters with Cincinnati police since 1995. No cop has ever been charged before in these killings.
The system ruled, again: Police have the right to shoot unarmed people.
The authorities had prepared for the verdict--much had been done to suppress any fresh outbreak of rebellion. 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. An area-wide curfew made it illegal to be outdoors. Anyone on the street was subject to immediate arrest.
But people were determined to resist.
A homeless activist said, "People were angry but not surprised. Some were crying and others frustrated... Someone mentioned that with the events of September 11 there is all this talk of national unity, but don't pretend there is unity in Cincinnati."
There was outrage at the cops being given yet another green light to murder Black people. One woman said, "The people behind the police are tellin' them to do their job without remorse or care."
In the face of a heavy clampdown, people took to the streets in Over-the-Rhine, which had been a center of the rebellion in April. And there were protests in other Black neighborhoods as well. Dumpsters went up in flames and throughout the night, groups of 50 to 100 youth threw rocks and bottles at police cars and media vans. There were reports of people shooting at police.
The Mayor declared a state of emergency, protests after dark were banned, a curfew went in effect. In two days, 52 people were arrested.
One black woman from the Evanston area described how "All night long young people were shooting. The police were running the streets with guns out. They had shotgun barrels to the young men, but they kept running down the street--they didn't care if they were gonna get shot."
The mood in the street was: "You can't expect anything from this system." As one youth said, "If I shoot someone I'd get life, but he (Roach) ain't even get a slap on the wrist. They want us to sign up for war when this country ain't even for us."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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