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Dirty Harries: There's No Defense for Vigilantes

By Kathy Y. Wilson · May 21st, 2003 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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"I can't condone what (Harold McKinney) did, but I can't condemn it, either."

-- Todman Emmons of Northside

Vigilantism is a bastardization of justice. It is arrogant. It doesn't wait for outcomes.

Instead, a vigilante acts on the triumvirate impulse of fear, righteousness and adrenaline. He decides his way is best for everyone.

Most of us live in such fear -- of The Other, downtown and anywhere outside the perimeters of our paradigm -- we flaccidly applaud anyone fulfilling our dream of drawing down on the bad guy. We let him walk tall.

Harold McKinney, a member of the Citizens on Patrol Program (COPP), didn't get so much as a slap on the trigger finger for a) carrying a concealed weapon into a bar, b) felonious assault for shooting 18-year-old Joseph Person in the head and c) embodying the white male fantasy of no-court street justice.

The grand jury last week ignored the charges against McKinney in the May 8 shooting of Person and DeMeico Hester during their botched hold-up of Junker's Tavern in Northside. There's a lot at play here, and the layers are murkier than the Ohio River.

It's true crime is rampant across Cincinnati, and it's also true folks are, as Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen says, "fed up." Allen's newsbytes wreak of an after-the-fact pardon, however, a sort of "Oh, well" fraught with sighs and shrugging shoulders.

Sure, McKinney wasn't prosecuted. But when the prosecutor -- in typical political-speak-without-saying-what-he-really-means -- publicly backs lawlessness, it tells me McKinney's prosecution would've been watered down had it gone down.

Allen is an officer of the court and, as such, he's behaving irresponsibly. His line should've been, "We'll fully prosecute vigilantes given the edict by the grand jury." Read between the lines, and Allen's comments whisper "condone."

Further up the food chain of blame, there's the state with its squishy laws on carrying concealed weapons. The only way to know whether you've broken state concealed weapons statutes is to attempt "a McKinney," get arrested, charged and try proving your point in a court of law.

Without a clear-cut state law, cops can train and sermonize groups like COPP all day and night but drag, click and delete the rules if a vigilante decides to break the law and that law is convoluted.

And what was the grand jury thinking? They weren't.

I emerge from my sanctified imagination with the notion that jurors suspect young black men in Cincinnati to be the collective root cause of all manner of crime and misdemeanor; therefore, black male lives are devalued (see Timothy Thomas and Roger Owensby Jr.). To target one is to take aim at the Invisible Man.

Taken in this context, McKinney didn't do anything wrong. Here's the problem with that.

Person and Hester, both 18, obviously aren't smart to think they can hold up any place with a gun and get away with it. By doing so, they add to the Invisible Man Myth. And it goes like this: I behave like my life ain't shit and you treat me likewise.

So the grand jury fell for the oldest trick on the books -- blaming, then punishing the victim. I know it pains you to consider the stick-up man as the victim, but he is.

See, Person and Hester are the bad guys; that much we know because they came into a bar waving guns and with hoods obscuring their faces. By then, it was too late for either to do the right thing.

Somewhere along the equation someone who knew better -- McKinney, state lawmakers, the grand jury -- should've pulled the chord to halt the Lawless Express. Instead, we're all standing around self-congratulatory and content to make examples of two stupid-ass robbers while McKinney, felonious by default, enjoys liberty and the fuzzy warmth of other frightened supporters living vicariously through his holster.

Tell me again how we're better than the criminals.

I can't imagine the level of fear and violence in that bar that night. Further, what kind of allegedly law-abiding man carries a gun and doesn't use it when he's "supposed to?" Person and Hester were willing to use theirs, so why not McKinney?

Not punishing all the wrongdoers because it appeases a citywide sense of fear masturbated to a head by the media, the mayor, the cops and even business owners who blame panhandlers for lagging business is itself a criminal act. It's lazy living. It's shiftless thinking. It's scary times.

And we're all dirty.



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
 
 
 
 

 

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