How can the University of Cincinnati prepare for the trial of Ray Tensing? That’s the question audience members are contemplating after today’s panel discussion, “DOJ Reports on Policing in Ferguson and Baltimore: What They Mean for Cincinnati and the Country.”
The Cincinnati Project, UC’s Center for Student Affairs, and Cincinnati Law’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice collaborated to present five experts to discuss police killings across the nation. Using the Department of Justice’s reports on Ferguson and Baltimore as a springboard, panelists examined such issues as the root causes of police violence against people of color, challenged the existence of a just criminal justice system, and urged a re-examination of the meaning of “public safety” that includes input from affected communities.
“Criminal Justice is an Oxymoron”
Cincinnati Law Professor Janet Moore urged audience members to move beyond policing. For example, she suggested tterms as “mass incarceration” miss important points. Based on the high incarceration rate of people of color and poor people in our society, Moore said “hyperincarceration” would be more accurate. She observed that the U.S. stands out in world for locking up its citizens at such high rates that one scholar characterized the U.S. as “an inexplicable deformity.” “We need to move from re-entry to no entry, ” Professor Moore said.
Police Killings: The Latest Chapter of State-Sponsored Violence against African Americans
Professors Tracy Teslow and Earl Wright (of the History and Africana Departments, respectively), provided historical context for hyper-incarceration and police killings of African Americans. Professor Teslow recounted the nation’s long history of physical, psychic, and social violence against Blacks in such forms, as lynching, denial of educational end employment opportunities.She observed that the DOJ reports echoed similar documents prepared in the wake of race riots, such as the Kerner Commission, which cautioned about two Americas– one Black, one white, in 1968.
Professor Wright connected the injustices outlined in the DOJ reports to Reconstruction era Black Codes. States enacted such laws in order to return Blacks to their enslaved status. These statutes authorized police to arrest African Americans for loitering or being unemployed. Once arrested, they were put to work in convict leasing system, which scholar W.E.B. Dubois first documented. Through such actions, states supplemented their income, just as DOJ identified was the case in Ferguson. Professor Wright asked, “How far away from Reconstruction and the Black Codes are we?”
A Call to Focus on Systemic Bias and Community Engagement
Freedom Advocate Iris Roley talked about policing against the backdrop of systemic racism confronting residents of impoverished communities– in part, how such bias accounts for the poor conditions in which they live. Like Professor Moore, Ms. Roley urged audience members to think beyond policing to recognize the role of entrenched racism in consigning families to communities lacking basic amenities.
Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents Samuel DuBose’s family, provided the audience with ideas for improving conditions, based upon some of the successes of the Collaborative Agreement between the city and Cincinnati Police Department. In working toward unbiased policing, the agreement set a number of goals, one of which was reducing arrests. Cincinnati Police succeeded in doing so; the rate of crime also reduced. Mr. Gerhardstein suggested that one reason crime fell was that by separating the notion of public safety from arrests, police could focus more on problem-solving– that is, working with the community to understand why they felt unsafe and developing strategies informed by the people to address those problems.
With this background, audience members considered the October 25 trial of Ray Tensing, the former UC police officer charged with murder in the death of Samuel DuBose. How should students, faculty, and staff prepare ? One concrete suggestion emerged: university officials should not overreact, citing the decision to close campus and bring in heavily armed police in anticipation of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deter’s announcement about whether Tensing would be indicted.
What do you think? Al Gerhardstein’s firm has a Police Reform Toolkit that may spark ideas. Post yours in the comment section.