The Anger in Cincinnati

by Bill Swain

Revolutionary Worker #1223, December 21, 2003, posted at

Like many people around the country and even around the world, I saw the video of the Cincinnati cops brutally beating Nathaniel "Skip" Jones to death. Every time it came on TV news I cringed, feeling the pain the brother must have felt as the cops--first two, then four more--drove their metal clubs into his sides, his back, his legs, and his head as hard as these racist killers could.until he was no longer alive.

The video of this modern-day lynching reminded me of the photo exhibit of lynchings of Black people that I saw in Atlanta last year. I thought back to the haunting pictures of Black people who were hung, burned, castrated, and beaten to death by crowds of white racists.

A few days after Nathaniel Jones was killed on November 30, I joined some RCYB youth from Cleveland to go to Nathaniel's funeral and to take part in a December 7 protest march.

When we got into the city, the first place an activist friend took us to was the White Castle in the North Avondale neighborhood. It was in the parking lot here that the cops set upon 41-year-old Nathaniel and bludgeoned him to death. People had put up a memorial right on the spot where the cops killed Skip.

After promising to "investigate" the incident, city officials have already said the six cops involved in killing Nathaniel will be back on duty. A Black man who lives near White Castle told me, "After the fact, they going to put the cops back on the street to show us, `You all are nothing, you don't have a voice, no one going to listen to you all. We will do it again.' " But, he said, "We do have a voice." He pointed out that the day after the killing, there was graffiti all over the city saying "Look at the 96 seconds" and "Ask questions." The police video which shows the cops beating Nathaniel has a gap of 96 seconds--the time when the cops first approached him.

At Nathaniel's funeral, lots of people were outside comforting each other in all their sadness, pain, and outrage. I spoke to Nathaniel's mom and relatives and looked at the many pictures of him with his children and his family.

Tiffany, a friend of the family, told me, "I am the mother of a 24-year-old Black man--and I am afraid for his life whenever he goes out. And that's serious. If he is ever in a situation where the police are around or called--it could be an innocent situation--it could escalate to where it would cost him his life. And that's what I am afraid of. When he leaves, I pray that he never has an encounter with the Cincinnati police. Not even to ask for directions. We tell our kids to speak respectfully, keep your hands out in the open. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter."

I ran into Natasha, who I last met two years ago at another funeral--the one for Timothy Thomas. Black people in Cincinnati rose up in rebellion after the police shot 19-year-old Timothy dead in 2001. Natasha told me, "Terrorism happens in Cincinnati against Black people every single day. There is more Black people in jail than anyone else, more arrests done. For simple misdemeanors. On any single day there are 25 to 30 Black men arrested for disorderly conduct or jaywalking."

Monica R. Williams is from the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati--which has led a boycott of downtown businesses since the police murder of Timothy Thomas. She said, "Had Nathaniel been a black bear instead of a Black man, he'd be alive today. They would have contained him, they would have tranquilized him, they would have taken him someplace safe. Being a Black man in this city, in the eyes of the police, Nathaniel had zero value whatsoever. Case in point, we had a cow a year ago that was running amuck in this city. She charged police officers, she crossed highways, she placed lives in danger. They didn't shoot her one time.. We have here a young man who was doing absolutely nothing wrong, and he lost his life. And now Police Chief Streicher said yesterday the video will be used within 10 years as a training video to train officers how to take down suspects."

"If it had not been for the rebellion," Monica added, "there would not be the national news coverage to this issue."

After the funeral, we went to the Over the Rhine area, a diverse neighborhood where the 2001 rebellion broke out. At Washington Park I talked with homeless people who were lined up for food. Richard, a Black man, said, "Listen, about Blacks getting killed, they don't give a damn. I don't think the mayor give a damn about the Blacks. People on city council don't give a damn, the judges. And they won't prosecute the police. They won't find them guilty. But whatever they think Blacks have done in this town, you are going to get prosecuted. Whatever they think you done. They killed that boy--everybody seen it, it was on world news. They killed him. Watch! Even if they went to court, those police officers aren't going to jail. The message is like this in this city: If you Black and a police officer kills you, you just killed. I don't care if the officer is wrong or not, you just dead. And nothing be done. Look at the case of Timothy Thomas, two years ago, killed him right around the corner. Nothing done. They proved they was wrong, the man was unarmed... And I just heard on the news the six cops [who killed Nathaniel] are going to be back on the street Monday. That's what I heard."

A 16-year-old Black girl said, "He put his hands up and they still was hitting him. I just can't show the police no respect no more just for that. That's just why people want to make another riot down here. I don't think it should be easy for the police to get out this situation." She talked about what it's like every day for people in her community. "We be outside standing over there on the corner--you don't have no drugs, they just pull you over for nothing. They be out here just trying to get as many people to go to jail they can."

The protest march on Sunday, December 7, called by the New Black Panther Party and several ministers, started at the police headquarters and went through Over the Rhine. One of the chants was "Justice for Nathaniel, it's right to rebel, put the killer cops in jail!"

After the rally, I talked to a group of Black youth. An 18-year-old sister said, "If a black man get pulled over, they come to him with some bullshit instantly, like he got drugs or guns. My aunt live on the third floor, she ain't got no doorbell. So when we gotta get in, we be shoutin up the window. And the police come by saying, `What you doing, that ain't no ghetto doorbell.' And they be harrasing me--gave me a spitting ticket for $75. I told them everybody spits, I couldn't believe it."

A 25-year-old man jumped in: "We an endangered species, like it's the jungle or something. They shutting down our projects. They tore down Lincoln Courts projects to build condos. They tore down our project to build condos. They trying to move all the Black people out. They say this man's sellin drugs, but look what positions he's in. Start from school, the teachers not trying to help. The average grade level where people drop out is 8th or 9th grade. People out here sell dope.they got no choice but to do it."

The actions of the authorities following the killing of Nathaniel has angered people even more. Not only are the six cops walking free, the Mayor has called for the police to use tazer guns in similar situations. On December 10 dozens of youth walked out of at least four high schools to join a march downtown from Fountain Square to City Hall to protest the murder of Nathaniel and the Mayor's statement about tazers.

As I talked to the people in Cincinnati, it was clear that for Black people in the city the murder of Nathaniel Jones opened a floodgate of outrage about the constant, relentless oppression they face at the hands of the police and the entire power structure. In various ways, the Black people of Cincinnati are crying out for justice and for change--for some way out of this white supremacist setup.