A Failure of Democracy and the Cincinnati PD Reaction to the Dubose Murder

At first, what surprised me about the murder of Samuel Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer is how quickly the Cincinnati police has moved to arrest and publicly condemn U of C Officer Ray Tensing. I’m sure part of the response is genuine. But what I didn’t understand was how quickly Tensing was abandoned, not just by the district attorney’s office, but other cops: no one is standing up for this guy, or trying to raise funds for him. Then I read this (boldface mine):

The county prosecutor’s office said that no law enforcement officer in Hamilton County — whose county seat is Cincinnati — had ever before been indicted on murder charges for use of force while on duty. At the news conference, Mr. Deters said Officer Tensing “should never have been a police officer,” but he declined to elaborate….

Mr. Deters said that the university police force should be disbanded because policing is not what a university knows how to do, and that the campus should be patrolled by the Cincinnati Police Department.

Not only have U of C police officers been responsible for the death of an unarmed black man before, but further reporting suggests this is partially a conflict over how much authority should the U of C police have–and thus, how much power the Cincinnati police should cede (boldface mine):

The Hamilton County prosecutor has called for the campus force to be disbanded; the university has suspended neighborhood patrols and is initiating a “top to bottom” review. Mayor John Cranley said he was concerned about the racial makeup and training of the campus force, and in an interview Friday, Chief Jeffrey Blackwell of the Cincinnati police called for the [U of C] agreement, signed by one of his predecessors, to be scrapped…

This is an island of throwback policing in the middle of a city that actually does policing correctly,” said Al Gerhardstein, a civil rights lawyer who brought the class-action case that led to the [Cincinnati police] consent decree. “That’s what makes all of us ache.”

…Although the consent decree expired in 2008, an advisory group meets regularly with the city to monitor continued adherence to what it calls “the collaborative.” Some group members, including Judge Susan Dlott of United States District Court, who oversaw the consent decree, say they were alarmed to learn, after Mr. DuBose’s death, that the university had a formal agreement to patrol beyond campus borders.

“We were furious, because we knew that the U.C. police have not had any of the training that the Cincinnati Police have,” Judge Dlott said.

Put another way, in Cincinnati, after the 2001 riots, democratic processes worked: the police became much more responsive to the community’s needs and policed in according with how citizens wanted them to police. But a former police chief and a university administration unilaterally decide to alter policy and two unarmed black men are killed.

There’s a lesson to be had somewhere in all of this.

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