Cincinnati is undergoing a crisis of policing. In the past two weeks, there have been two officer-involved shootings where a black man was killed. In the second shooting, just today, the officer also died. There are few details about today’s shooting, I’m writing this on my lunch break, just an hour after the news of the cop’s death was made public, and just a day after a Black Lives Matter rally calling for answers surrounding the earlier killing. It is being implied that the shooter in today’s case had a death wish, but we have seen how, even in the absence of any discernible intention, they will justify the force in whatever way they can while condemning any and all of the actions of the civilian dead.
Prior to these shootings, the early summer heat brought on a series of highly publicized incidents of gun violence around the city, which bubbled over into a political crisis. Chief Blackwell’s job is currently in question, and he has even expressed his own desire, however small, to resign under this hostile climate.
Not in question is the role of the police in the first place, and we’ve seen the first of the reforms put forward to curb with apparent uptick in violence. The reform getting the most attention is the curfew imposed on teenagers out late at night and the introduction of holding centers for parents to pick up their kids, a measure meant to, depending on who you ask, either get violent youth off the street, or to protect them from the violent around every corner. The city budget called for dozens more police to be hired on top of the over 1000-strong police force. And as the state power begins to assert itself, we are beginning to see what that looks like. On June 9th Quandavier Hicks was killed in his apartment after the police entered under dubious pretenses, giving changing stories of what ensued and describing events physically impossible given the house’s architecture.
In Fairfield, a suburb of Cincinnati, a 12 year old girl was forcefully ejected from a pool, her jaw and several ribs broken in an incident which started when another pool goer didn’t have the correct swimwear. Her pregnant mother was also roughed up by the police and a white bystander who was helping the responding officers hold the suspects down. The matter evokes images of McKinney, Texas, where a similar incident occurred just a week prior, leading to the resignation of one of the officers involved. Some who are familiar with the Fairfield complex claim that the pool’s attire rules have been selectively enforced as a means to control the race of patrons.
The recent events and the national movement around police brutality has led to a renewed milieu of serious distrust of police in the city, which, as Baltimore rioted, was remembering the 14th’s anniversary of the April 2001 riots after Timothy Thomas’s murder by Officer Stephen Roach.
But when a cop dies, the conversation changes.
We know what the immediate fallout will be. When two cops in New York were killed in during the period of national response to the non-indictment of a third officer that had previously choked Eric Garner to death, the movement entered into minor crisis. The police union in New York, performed a kind of work stoppage and literally and figuratively turned their backs to Mayor de Blasio who they claimed had, via a lack of action and minor sympathy for protesters (de Blasio has two black children), had helped create a situation that was hostile to the police in the city.
This also comes during a week when the criminal justice system will be lauded for the handling of the case of the racist Charleston murderer who killed 9 blacks gathered at a church known for its founder Denmark Vesey. In 1822, Vesey was killed by the state for a plot involving hundred of slaves and supporters to overthrow the system of bondage in the southern stronghold. The shooter, a young white man, was caught within a day and will no doubt be sentenced to life in prison, or death.
Though separated by almost 200 years, the case of Vesey and the Charleston shooter, speak to the current racial situation of policing in america. After a hasty trial, Vessy was put to death over intention. Vesey’s crime was threatening the system, the Charleston shooters crime is reinforcing it. In this way, the actions of the police in doing their jobs are not so different.
Blackwell is an apparent expert on “community policing,” which is simply the the postmodern reorganization of the police force following the decades of the urban crisis. While the police are, perhaps, less hostile in Cincinnati, having undergone reforms following 2001, their role remains unchanged. Also unchanged is the general rate at which they are killing blacks in Cincinnati, 3 to 4 a year, a similar number in the lead up to the riots.
The death of the officer in Cincinnati comes at a politically important time, when the Cincinnati Police have a growing need to both consolidate their power and justify their existence. The police are there not to protect life or protect property, they are there to protect the system as it currently exists.
We should expect more reforms, and more task forces. More police and more criminalization of everyday life, all in the name of addressing these issues. More Citizens On Patrol, a cornerstone of the top-down model of brand of community policing so lauded in Cincinnati, will roam the streets. In Northside, my neighborhood and the neighborhood where Quandavier Hicks was killed, white COP members will observe the normal actions of their young black neighbors from afar and file reports of what they see to the police at the end of their excursions. There will be more “good guy loitering” as the white petty bourgeois call it, to displace the problematic loitering; read: young, black and male.
The police and their violence is the glue holding together our racist city as a whole, the sugar baked into the cake. Cincinnati’s segregation, a product of both natural and human geography–of race and class and hills–will be enforced and amplified under the guise of being tough on crime. The praxis of community policing will be thrown out of the window in the pursuit of lower statistics in the important areas, but the marketing of a friendly police force will continue.
The movement itself can expect to bear some of the brunt of this heightened policing, our actions will be called inappropriate and in poor taste. We will be labeled criminals and thugs for holding peaceful rallies and demanding accountability of the institutions of power.
And everyone will be called on to do their part. Also this week, 3CDC, the public-private redeveloper responsible for the gentrification of Over-the-Rhine (which recently reached new heights as $650,000 homes came onto the market in what in 2010 was declared the country’s most income disparate census tract), announced plans to renovate the well used Ziegler park. Just as with the renovation of Washington Park, a few blocks west, the discussion around this renovation revolves around apparent criminal activity and the need to make the park more safe and accessible for regular people.
Several weeks ago, Black Lives Matter had a rally that started in Zielger park. While some regulars were initially hostile, saying the rally needed to be several blocks south “where the white people are,” they came around, and several young mothers and their children joined the event, while dozens of others, mostly black, continued with their business, either unfazed or supportive. Outside the park, the police kept close watch, but not because of the rally, but because they are always there.
Nothing the police are doing is out of the ordinary, they are acting completely normally within their role in our society. The people at Ziegler park know this. No amount of additional police, no next day press conferences to explain their actions, no heightened levels of surveillance, no lrads or armored vehicles, no boot camp days for troubled youth, no additional patrols, no meetings with community councils–nothing that serves to bolster the effectiveness or public image of the various institutions of social control will relieve the underlying cause of the troubles we face.
What we should, perhaps, try to imagine is a world where the police are never there in Ziegler park. Not in some sense of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but a world where the historic role, and apparent necessity, of the police is brought to an end. Good policies, and good police, will only go as far as they are able to under the general conditions in our system. A system of racism and capitalism, directing violence downward toward the working masses, where blacks disproportionately find themselves. The daily violence of poverty and hunger, of want, is ignored, while the control of the problems born out of it are focused on to the tune of $130 million each year in Cincinnati. Police budgets are blindly increased while social services, school, jobs, recreation and housing are all subjected to reviews and cutbacks.
Poverty and racism, central to our system, can’t be reformed out of existence, and no level of investment in think tanks or task forces will fix these issues. Policing is a problem of geometry–the solutions are always forced down from above. A movement rooted in the masses is the only force with the ability to can manifest that imagined society where, instead of the boot forever stamping on the human face, the boot is nonexistent.
We can not let the events of today take us off the streets. If anything, they are another example of the necessity for our movement to go further, to challenge not just the actions of the police, but the grotesque society they defend.