A stunning indictment has been handed down in Cincinnati, focusing attention again on police killings of people of color. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters announced that University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing has been charged with murder, for the July 19 shooting death of Samuel DuBose, a 43-year-old African-American man. Tensing pulled over DuBose because he was driving a car without a front license plate. As Deter said in his news conference: “He was dealing with someone without a front license plate. This is, in the vernacular, a very chicken-crap stop.” Tensing wanted to see DuBose’s driver’s license. When DuBose said he didn’t have it, Tensing made a motion to open DuBose’s car door. Within seconds of this interaction, Tensing’s right hand swung into the video frame with a pistol. He fired a single shot into DuBose’s head, which sent the car, with DuBose dead behind the wheel, rolling down the street, where it crashed to a halt. Before Tensing’s body-camera video was released, the officer claimed that his arm had been caught in the car, and he was dragged down the street. Another officer, Phillip Kidd, reported he saw the same thing. The video clearly debunked their version. Kidd should be arrested, too. Prosecutor Deters released Officer Tensing’s body-camera video, stating, “This is without question a murder.”
DuBose was killed about one week after another deadly traffic stop. In that case, in Waller County, Texas, 28-year-old Sandra Bland, also African-American, was pulled over by Brian Encinia, a white Texas State Trooper. Encinia claimed she had not signaled a lane change. The trooper’s dashboard camera recorded the stop. He demanded that Bland put out her cigarette, then told her to get out of the car, saying: “I’m giving you a lawful order. I am going to drag you out of there.” Bland can be heard saying: “You opened my car door. So you’re threatening to drag me out of my own car?” Encinia then shouted, “Get out of the car!” When Bland replied: “And then you’re going to assault me? Wow,” Encinia, brandishing a Taser, shouted: “I will light you up! Get out! Now!”
The next video captured Bland on the ground. She is heard saying, “You slammed me into the ground!” When she told Encinia she suffered from epilepsy, he can be heard replying “Good.” Three days after her arrest, Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell. The official cause of death reported was suicide, but family and friends dispute this.
DuBose’s murder also occurred almost a year to the day after Eric Garner was killed, when New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a choke hold. A video captured his death, with Garner gasping “I can’t breathe” 11 times. His death was declared a homicide, but Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan failed to charge Pantaleo or any other officer with his death. D.A. Donovan subsequently ran for Congress in a special election and won.
Three weeks after Garner’s death in Staten Island, police killed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. There was no video of his death on that Saturday afternoon, Aug. 9, 2014. There is video, taken by a bystander, of Brown’s bleeding corpse, left for hours, uncovered, on the hot pavement. No charges were filed against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, sparking massive protests and launching the Black Lives Matter movement.
This past weekend, more than 1,000 people gathered in Cleveland for a national organizing meeting for Black Lives Matter. Cleveland was the home of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy playing with a toy pistol in a public park on Nov. 21, 2014. A caller to 911 alerted the police about a “guy with a pistol,” but added “it’s probably fake.” Cleveland Police Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback careened into the park in a police cruiser. Within seconds, Loehmann fired at least twice, killing the boy. Surveillance footage, grainy and silent, captures the crime.
Reports have emerged that Loehmann was deemed unfit for police service over two years ago when he worked in the Cleveland suburb of Independence. A letter from a superior there specifically criticizes Loehmann’s performance in firearms training, saying, “He could not follow simple directions ... his handgun performance was dismal.” In 2014, the City of Cleveland paid $100,000 to settle an excessive-force case against Officer Garmback. In June, Cleveland Municipal Judge Ronald Adrine said there are grounds to prosecute the officers. So why haven’t Loehmann and Garmback been charged?
Cincinnati is a start for accountability and justice. Cleveland should pay attention. As the thousand people gathered there last weekend said clearly, “Black Lives Matter.”