Fist up fight back: lessons for the movement against police brutality from Cincinnati

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A black and white photo showing a large crowd at a Black Luves Matter Protest called ain 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray.

2015, Mass Rally in Solidarity with Freddie Gray who was murdered by Baltimore police

Written with Griffin Ritze

What does an effective movement against police brutality look like? Despite recent setbacks, we argue that Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati, in its structures to its tactics, is exemplary of the kind of organization our side needs to be building in a much more serious way if we want to win in the long term.


In June, a judge declared a second mistrial in the case of former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing, a white police officer who murdered an unarmed black motorist. Nearly two years before, Tensing pulled Sam DuBose over for a missing front license plate and at the end of a short traffic stop, DuBose was shot in the head, killing him instantly and sending his car speeding down a residential street.

The second trial began seven months after a jury was unable to come to a verdict the first time around. And as with the last case, a coalition of groups including Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati (BLMC), Socialist Alternative, Socialist Students, the NAACP, the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, Democratic Socialists of America, and others came together to build the largest possible base within Cincinnati’s working class around an explicit call for a conviction.

The mistrial came only days after a hung jury occurred in the trial of the police officer who murdered Philando Castile just outside of Minneapolis. Both killings were caught on camera for the entire world to see and yet neither case resulted in a conviction. Hours after the result, Socialist Alternative joined hundreds of other activists in Minneapolis to protest the injustice. In Cincinnati, pouring rain kept a larger crowd away after the DuBose result, but the over one hundred protesters did turn out with chants of “it’s raining injustice, this court is disgusting.”

Then in late July, County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced that he would not move forward with a third attempt at a conviction, essentially ending the prospects for any legal recourse at a local level. The judge in the second trial, Leslie Ghiz, formally dropped the charges against Tensing a week later. Deters, a right wing politician, is no friend to the Black Lives Matter movement and the initial indictment of Tensing was out of the ordinary for the prosecutor who is usually quick to come to the defense of any cop cops who uses force on the job.

Sam’s murder in June of 2015 came at a high point in struggle nationally. The movement had exploded following the August 2014 murder of Missouri teen Mike Brown, and Cincinnati itself was no stranger to the threat of police brutality and the fightback against it. For decades, there has been an ebb and flow of organizing against the justice system which criminalizes the city’s poor. Racial profiling, laws targeting the poor, systematic divestment in housing and jobs have all disproportionately affected Black working class communities.

In Cincinnati, as with every other city in America, state use of violence and repression divides the city’s working class residents along racial lines in the service of deeper ends. It is no coincidence that DuBose was killed by a University police officer, nor that DuBose was killed in a neighborhood on the brink of gentrification. Around campus, heightening race and class contradictions, which pit students against longer term residents under the increasing strain of capitalist re-development, were bound to produce results like this at some point.

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