By Kathy Y. Wilson · December 10th, 2003 · Your Negro Tour Guide
-- Black Rage by Grier and Cobbs
Let's straighten this wrinkle off the rip: White culture-at-large devalues black life, black male life more specifically. They're disengaged from and afraid of it. It's substandard training, ditto socialization.
Unwritten and especially unspoken rules of engagement between Cincinnati cops and black men dictate excessive physical and verbal altercations in repetitious blue/black scenarios ending in resistant, unarmed, dead black men; spin; pressed conferences; investigations; litigation; theater of the absurd on your AM dial; and racial derision and division.
This hurts me more than it hurts you: Black men can't and shouldn't expect any better from The Other than they give themselves. They're ensconced in and clueless to the effects of the worst of their black maleness. It's cultural permissiveness, ditto apathy.
Unwritten and especially unspoken rules of black male behavior dictate excesses ending in physical, emotional and spiritual self-destruction; suicide by cop; black-male-on-black-male homicide; incarceration; and acting out that is, in its totality, unfair because it skews black loyalty and, conversely, criticism.
The nightmarish recurrence of Nathaniel Jones being pummeled and ultimately escorted to death by six metal night sticks, cocaine, PCP, obesity and an inflamed heart trounced the fragility of tranquility outside our doors. It's like watching an intentional drowning.
But it resurfaces the notion that our cops instantaneously rev themselves to overdrive when black men are their tango partners. Announcer: "Next on the news, the criminalization of another dead black man."
They trot out past offenses that, as we repave Dead Nigga Boulevard, have nothing to do with the present tension and why the man died by their hands. And by his own.
Likewise, black men are ready to rumble with cops in a kill-me-or-die-trying smack down, a response to preconceived danger and imminent death. And like we knew they should, they leave families grieving and litigating, calling on survivors to reverse the black stain left by the deft hand of police public relations.
He was on drugs, obese, a good man. He was gentle. Gentlemen make mistakes. Goes repeatedly for cops, too.
Wish I could pinpoint to Cincinnati the melee of cop-on-black-man-on-black-man-on-cop-on-community.
We're not alone. I see dead black people.
Dateline Dayton: A black man, interrupted by cops mid-burglary, died several hours after their struggle and his arrest.
Dateline Louisville: Marchers honor the one-year anniversary of a black man shot dead while handcuffed in police custody.
Some like me tweak blame based on a concoction of the most recent encounter with a radio talk show, newscast, videotape angle, workplace conversation or nightmare.
I also wonder what black church leaders, civil rights ambassadors and grassroots mouthpieces do with their marches and pressed conferences when black men keep killing black men.
Isn't a dead black man still a dead black man regardless of how he got that way?
Young educated blacks say a black man does wrong or he does right, and a police encounter won't kill him if he's in with the latter. Conscious black artists say public outcry over the redundancy of deaths of unarmed black men isn't keeping pace or pitch with the occurrences.
Ignoring the melodrama inherent in the scorekeeping of who did what to whom, one basic truth bears confrontation and consideration: Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher must be jimmied out.
Streicher must go, whether in response to a succession of demands emanating across communities or in a rare display of character for the greater good or by his big-money banker friends paying him off with a cushy, Mayberry-type security gig.
During his tenure, emotional mayhem has overtaken his force and spilled across the way his cops engage black men in the streets. Even if it's true mostly black men are suspects, it's still true no white male suspects meet the same end.
If that seems oversimplified, consider the oversimplified mathematics of former (and some say still) Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman whenever he tours us down the memory lane of white cops felled by black suspects. This tactic ignores the climate of permissiveness and the cult of personality within the ranks of the police division.
Streicher has rubber-stamped rogue. But he doesn't boomerang back into his force the zero tolerance aimed at criminals.
Instead of bringing City Manager Valerie Lemmie to tears, Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and other alleged black leaders should be strategizing how to flush Streicher as well as addressing self-destructive criminal behavior perpetrated by black men.
If Jones had been pulled over in a traffic stop (racial profiling?) and a search produced his drug-laced cigarettes, would the encounter have ended in his death? Likely so, based on cops' previous encounters with black men. (See also Michael Carpenter and his family's settlement.)
In the end, I'm tired from the seesaw of balancing the heft of my intellect against the girth of my rage. My reasonable and irrational selves war, and either way I'm off, half-cocked.
It's like your president lying about the Iraqi regime change and then not admitting the only weapons of mass destruction are dead U.S. troops. The proof's there, but how do we connect it sensibly and deal?
How far back are we supposed to time travel? Past Timothy Thomas to Roger Owensby Jr., Michael Carpenter back to Lorenzo Collins?
The most important part of history is now. Streicher's presence keeps us repeating it, but his bow out will help by deleting it.
Hear Kathy on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
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