Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2003/ 10 Kislev 5764
Justice shouldn't be black or white
Just a month after the city of Cincinnati finalized a $4.5 million settlement to families of black males wrongfully killed by white police officers - as well as others claiming racial profiling in traffic stops - the city is again immersed in issues of race and a questionable police-related death.
By now most Americans have seen the videotape of Nathaniel Jones being beaten repeatedly with clubs by a half dozen police officers. Jones, who weighed 342 pounds, had an enlarged heart and was intoxicated on cocaine and PCP, died from the stressful effects of the beating, according to the coroner's report.
And once again Cincinnati, plagued in recent years by charges of police brutality and protests leading to riots, is split along racial lines.
The city's black community sees yet another incident of white police brutality, though one of the officers involved in Jones' beating was African-American. Jones is the 18th black male killed by police since 1995.
Whites once again see, what? Scary black people on drugs? Police just doing their jobs?
Watching this saga unfold, it's disheartening to see opinion divide along racial lines. If a black man is threatening, should police slacken their normal response in order to avoid racist charges? If a white cop reacts incorrectly to a confrontation involving a black, does that always make him a racist? Or, if he is in fact a racist guilty of excessive force, must whites defend him because he's a cop just doing his difficult, thankless job?
Fairness and justice are supposed to be colorblind and yet we seem inevitably to side with "our own kind." If blacks suggest white cops are heavy-handed, they're considered stuck in a civil rights rut; if whites suggest cops are heavy-handed, they're ACLU-lovin' liberals.
Just when did it become liberal to be skeptical about arming the government against its citizenry? The police have guns and the legal prerogative to shoot me anytime they deem appropriate, and I'm not supposed to question their judgment?
I ran into this mindset recently when I criticized the Goose Creek, S.C., police for a drug raid on a local high school. As armed police and drug-sniffing dogs swarmed into the school, kids walking to class were forced onto hallway floors and, in some cases, handcuffed. A videotape of the raid, in which no drugs were found, showed police with guns drawn.
As I watched those tapes, all I could think was, what if one of those kids had reached for his pocket? He might have been shot, just like 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who Cincinnati police fatally shot two years ago, provoking four days of riots.
No Goose Creek students died in the halls that day, but the potential for tragedy was immense and the risk unjustified. Yet some readers accused me of being, oh, a commie-loving, left-wing radical, whereupon left-wing radicals everywhere cried in protest.
I don't doubt that Jones was pretty scary. An extra-large man stoned on cocaine and PCP would seem threatening even without a weapon. And Jones did lunge at and bring down one officer, as captured by a security camera, though not on the police tapes replayed on most television news programs.
Even so, a whack or two should be sufficient to bring down a rhino, much less a man, who, let's face it, probably wasn't going to give much of a chase. Officers involved said Jones wouldn't cooperate, that he continued to struggle. How exactly does one relax and cooperate when being beaten? Trying to escape painful blows is the only response for any person - black, white, fat, thin, stoned or straight.
I'm no softy on crime and no enemy of cops. I'm a fan of reasonable consequences and punishments, and I admire those who risk their lives to protect our communities.
But Americans have a right to demand that those we arm to protect us use force judiciously. We also have a duty to take the "right" side, not the black or white side, when something goes wrong. People who have committed no crime shouldn't end up dead when the police show up.
It is a fact of American life that not many unarmed, middle-aged white women are on the receiving end of excessive police force. But I would like to think that if I were the 18th white woman to be killed by a black cop in fewer than 10 years that blacks - not just whites - would raise hell on my behalf.
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