By Earl Wright II
On Tuesday, October 4, I will participate on a panel discussion on the implications of the Department of Justice reports on Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland titled, “DOJ Reports on Policing in Ferguson and Baltimore: What They Mean for Cincinnati and the Country.” During the few minutes I have to talk I will focus on two matters:
- connecting the findings of the recent DOJ reports to an American history of policing that dates back to this nation’s years of reconstruction
- advising the leadership in Cincinnati to use the findings from the DOJ reports proactively to provide leadership on issues of policing and, more importantly, to learn from the mistakes of police militarization as the trial of Ray Tensing nears and the decision on his guilt or innocence lay in the balance.
In 1903 sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about the shadow slavery program that followed the ‘peculiar institution.’ During these years “Black Codes,” de jure and de facto laws severely governing the lives and freedoms of Black Americans, were established. Examples of punishable offenses include the gathering of two or more Blacks in a public area, and being unemployed. Having little to no protection under the law, thousands of men and women were unjustly jailed, some for simply not being gainfully employed. Their labor was literally sold to the highest bidder in the region. The successful bidder (i.e., plantation owner) then legally controlled the (slave) labor of the persons whom he purchased from local officials. This was practiced during the early twentieth century.
What say we today?
This practice is still in play today. One can look at laws connected to the American drug war that has led to a supply of able bodied persons whose ‘talents’ have been and continue to be utilized in private and government prisons for the production of various products at minimal expenditures. As it relates to Ferguson, Missouri, government officials purposely used the criminal justice system to extract monies from its primarily Black citizens to supplement the local budget.
The targeting of Blacks in this manner is eerily similar to that of years past. This gives one pause to raise the question, “How far removed from the reconstruction era are we?”
Militarized Use of Force
In Ferguson and Baltimore the world witnessed how the militarization of an institution sworn to “serve and protect” the members of its community engaged in militaristic tactics designed for combat against enemies of this nation and in locations far from our borders. The militarized use of force against the members of ones community should not occur, unless the force employed against the policing community are also militarized. Notwithstanding the latter, the military rule over American communities must not be allowed.
What has the city of Cincinnati learned?
As the city of Cincinnati prepares for the trial of the University of Cincinnati police officer charged with killing Samuel DuBose one must ask the question, “what has the city of Cincinnati learned from the tactics of community engagement observed in other cities?” One can only hope that the powers that be in this city and region have carefully and clearheadedly examined the best practices in community engagement and policing. For if they have not then the name Cincinnati may, again, be added to the string of other cities whose citizens expressed displeasure with their treatment via the criminal justice system in ways that some may deem unpleasant. In order to prevent such unfortunate situations some of us at the University of Cincinnati are participating in a unit, The Cincinnati Project, that may serve as an intermediary between residents and the policing community.
The Cincinnati Project Serves as a Bridge
The Cincinnati Project (TCP) was established in 2014 to serve as a bridge between community stakeholders and institutional units at the University of Cincinnati such that those relationships can be (re)established and/or improved. The primary goal of TCP is to offer the skills and talents of members of the university community to the larger Cincinnati community whereby specific research needs of grassroots members of the community can be met. Moreover, TCP engages with community stakeholders as equal partners, not as a body of scholars single-mindedly focused on exploiting members of the community for our personal gain. However, as it relates to matters of social justice broadly and this panel discussion specifically, the goal of TCP is to serve as an intermediary whose efforts are useful in the maintenance of a prosperous and forward moving Queen City.