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Cincinnati Police Beating - Racism Alive & Well?

Nathaniel Jones became the latest African American to die last weekend in disputed circumstances in the already beleaguered city of Cincinnati, Ohio.

With tensions between the black community there and police strained as it is, this is the last thing the city needs right now.

In April, 2001, a 19 year old black man, Timothy Thomas, was shot in the back by a white police officer and later died, which resulted in the city exploding in 3 days of riots subsequently.

But the question that this incident over the weekend raises is not just one of whether there is a problem with racism within the Cincinnati police force but also amongst sizeable chunks of the population at large in terms of reactions that it brought about.

There are two specific aspects to the incident that raise questions.

First of all was the alarming speed with which Jones was condemned as the guilty party here.

The charge in this regard was, as usual, lead by conservative media outlets, broadcasters and police advocacy groups, which in itself, is not wholly surprising.

These are people who simply have absolutely no ability whatsoever to recognise what the rest of the world came to understand a long time ago, which is that the problem of police abusing their powers is a very real one.

In their eyes, if it has a badge and a uniform on then it can do nothing wrong.

That is not to pretend that equally closed-minded people do not exist on the other side of the fence too on this issue, but what is particularly questionable about the motives of those who leaped to the defense of law enforcement here was that fact that everyone knew there was an additional 1 minute and 37 seconds of videotape footage of the incident that no one had seen yet.

All that the public was treated to initially was the footage of arrestee trying to physical assault the first two officers at the scene.

What was not first shown was the footage of what happened before the officers arrived or what happened before the fracas erupted between both parties.

Indeed the fact that Nathaniel Jones had both alcohol and drugs inside his system and was obesely overweight were used as ways to vilify and denigrate his character thus casting aspersions over him.

When, for example, ex Los Angeles police commissioner Daryl Gates states on television that Jones looks like a dangerous guy to him, on what is his basing that comment?

Certainly not on knowing him as he has never met Nathaniel Jones before in his life apparently. So could it be then because Gates is so prejudiced and blinded by his years in law enforcement that he cannot even contemplate that problems of police brutality might exist? Or did the colour of this person’s skin play a role in making such a rash judgment about a man he knows nothing about?

This is, after all, the same ex Los Angeles police commissioner whose resignation came amidst the controversy surrounding the infamous taped beating of Rodney King.

It is, of course, completely possible that a potent mixture of PCP and cocaine in Nathaniel Jones’ system caused him to react in an irrationally aggressive manner on being approached by the two police officers.

However, it is also possible that something may have been said to him by one of them that provoked him.

Witnesses in the eatery where he had left made no reports of seeing him behave aggressively to anyone inside whilst he was there nor has anyone claimed they saw him do so outside either upon departure.

On the video footage, Jones can be heard shouting two insults at the officers, “white boy” and “redneck”.

Did he do that because he was high on drugs or did he do it because he was responding angrily to offensive comments that may have been made to him first?

We do not know.

But what we can do is question the attitudes of people who are happy to make snap judgments here, all the more so when it is often the same like-minded people who frequently do this in incidents that far too often involve black people.

The second and broader issue here is whether a legitimate problems exists in this city with policing methods overall with regards to minorities.

The pivotal fact here is that out of 38 deaths at the hands of police of black people since 1995, 15 of those have occurred in Cincinnati.

That does not prove anything in itself but it certainly does mean that questions need to be asked about what is going there.

Donovan Jackson, a 16 year old black kid from California was neither high nor overweight when an officer in Inglewood was filmed slamming his head, whilst in handcuffs, into the trunk of his police car in July 2002.

That still did not stop the same legion of police apologists from assuring the public that the boy must have done something wrong first.

In fact, he had not and the officer was subsequently fired from his job and indicted for assault.

It is now 13 years since the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles.

The white officers involved in that assault got off. The white officer involved in assaulting Donovan Jackson in California got off. The white officer involved in the shooting and killing of Timothy Jackson in Cincinnati got off. The white officers involved in the shooting and killing of Amadou Diallo in New York in 1999 got off also.

We have no idea when another incident like this will happen but we do know how a certain portion of the population will react to it when it does.

Minorities will get angrier and the next time inner city riots explode the majority will look on as clueless as ever as to why.

Perhaps then it is time for us to be a bit more honest about what the real problem may be here.

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