“There goes another one.”
Weekly, those words leave my lips as I have to restart the stages of grief when another person of color in the United States is shot, harassed, killed, or ends up “mysteriously deceased” by the hands of law enforcement. Quite frankly, it appears as though people of color are unable to have even a full week of mourning our fallen brothers and sisters before another one joins the tragic list.
Amid last week’s public outcry for justice for Sandra Bland—the African-American woman found dead in her jail cell (ruled an alleged suicide by hanging, according to a preliminary autopsy) in Hempstead, Texas—the African-American community could barely catch its breath before having to mourn yet another unarmed Black person killed by an officer. Bland’s death occurred after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation and subjected to an overzealous officer’s illegal three-day detainment. Similar to the Bland situation, on July 19, 43-year-old Samuel Dubose was pulled over by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing for a minor infraction – missing a front license plate.
Captured on Tensing’s body camera, you see Tensing ask Dubose for his license, which he did not have with him, inquire whether he had a suspended license and, soon after, reach into Dubose’s vehicle while telling him to get out of the car. Seconds later, Samuel Dubose has a gunshot wound in his head while his body slumps over the steering wheel and the car accelerates.
The entire encounter took less than 2 minutes.
It was later discovered that Tensing filed a false report of the incident, claiming he was being dragged by Dubose’s vehicle, which is why he felt it necessary to fire his weapon. He also stated that he was nearly run over by Dubose’s car. The bodycam footage displays none of these claims.
One would wonder what a University police officer was doing pulling over a civilian off-campus, but, according to the University of Cincinnati Police Department website, their officers have the jurisdiction to monitor each of the University’s campuses as well as working with local law enforcement to patrol surrounding campus neighborhoods. Though it is a question as to whether University police receive the same level of training as local law enforcement, one must ponder why would UCPD give a gun to an inadequately trained officer?
Then again, even the most trained officers in local precincts around the country are still killing people of color without reproach. So what must change?
Perhaps a complete countrywide revamp of training needs to occur within police departments (campus and local). But what can be done about the inherent fear and suspicion of black and brown bodies that, inevitably, contribute to the callous treatment of African-American citizens? Racism is so embedded within American society that we must recognize that this fear and demonization of people of color inevitably leads to their extermination by law enforcement. We must also recognize the role media plays in conditioning and reaffirming these fears.
The professional photograph of Ray Tensing circulating throughout news mediums features him donned in his police academy regalia. Juxtapose the officer’s photograph with that of victim Sam Dubose’s old mug shot. Prior to the bodycam video being released to the public, the information about the victim in the shooting featured his past arrest record. Unfortunately it is a narrative many of us have become familiar with – officer shoots/kills unarmed Black person; prop up officer in media as a family man/woman; denigrate victim with past arrests or drug use; if proof emerges showing the victim as a “true” victim, law enforcement must call for peace within the Black community; officer is not indicted or charged with a crime; African-American community protests and marches; another unarmed Black person is killed by police.
The rinse and repeat cycle is never ending.
This time, however, it seems justice could potentially be on the horizon with prosecutor Joe Deters calling for Tensing’s arrest after a grand jury indictment for murder.
Nevertheless, we must recognize that an indictment does not automatically equal a conviction. It is a shame that in 2015 African-Americans have become so bombarded with the utter lack of justice for Blacks killed in this country by officers (see: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, John Crawford, Walter Scott, Anthony Hill, Timothy Russel and Malissa Williams, etc.) that we have no choice but to celebrate the small victories with reservation. Moreover, though the CU campus police are an extension of the city precincts, in no way do campus officers have the same autonomy, respect, or level of allegiance as city officers. It could easily be argued that, had Tensing been an officer directly with the city of Cincinnati, an indictment would have never occurred.
It just stands to show that, even though Black lives still matter, we still can’t breathe.