There was trouble at the University of Cincinnati the night of Aug. 6, 2011.
Real, life-and-death trouble.
There’d been a fight outside Turner Hall.
UC Officer Richard Haas responded.
It was 2 a.m.
Nothing good ever happens at that hour.
Troubles from the day before seem always to take unsettled layovers. But trouble never takes a holiday at that hour.
Was someone jumped?
Did Everette Howard, Jr. jump in to help his friend?
Haas and Howard laid eyes on one another again and for the last time one hour later when Howard, allegedly chasing the people who’d attacked his friend down Jefferson Avenue, looked up to see Haas.
Haas reported Howard had been “punching the ground” then walked toward him “with clenched fists.”
Two of Haas’s deployed Taser barbs and 50,000 volts of electricity later and Howard, an 18-year-old North College Hill wrestler on campus for a pre-college extended stay experience, lay dead on the sidewalk.
Haas told a reporter he “respects the power of the Taser” and had never before used his before the encounter with Howard.
“The whole intent was not to kill him. I was just trying to get this kid under control,” Haas told the press.
Of course Haas didn’t mean to kill Howard, but “under control” runs the gamut from handcuffs to a prone position until maybe the real police arrive?
Meantime, there’s no greater “control” agent than death.
This type of chaotic control, to coin an appropriate oxymoron, isn’t new to UC Police. This police force — and I use this designation generously — seems in possession of what’s historically been a deadly cocktail of excessive excitement/anxiety/force and substandard training that invariably ends in shame and embarrassment for the university and, in the case of Howard’s death, a near cover-up.
(Remember the redacted internal report in the days immediately following Howard’s death? Mounting pressure forced the campus police to release unexpurgated reports.)
Most (in)famously in the pantheon of UC Police mishaps remains the 1997 backyard-brick-wielding death of Lorenzo Collins. Collins, a walk-away from the psychiatric floor of UC Hospital, was chased throughout Clifton until a phalanx of Cincinnati Police cornered him in the backyard of a Clifton home. Mentally ill, skittish and rightfully fearing for his life, Collins picked up a brick and was shot down like a dog.
But the tipping point of blame tips in the direction of UC Police.
They didn’t have radio capabilities to communicate with Cincinnati Police to alert them Collins was frequently an AWOL mental patient, and the afternoon sadly played out like jumpy frames from Keystone Cops with UC Police speeding about the surrounding neighborhood in confused circles, trading radio traffic only with one another.
As a major public university situated in the crossroads of at least three urban neighborhoods of varying class strata, it didn’t make sense that UC Police couldn’t communicate with city police.
If Collins’ death didn’t teach them/us anything else, it schooled us on the fact that this school shares overlapping jurisdictions.
But I digress.
Funny and sad how the past holds so much leverage and sway over these dazed days.
In our era of a two-term black president, one of my favorite dreams is that the specter of a young virile black man be taken in context and that young black man not be cut down before the prime of his life by a Taser-anxious university non-cop.
In this dream, the second time this non-cop and this young black man cross paths, the non-cop knows better than to even touch his Taser because he is a Taser virgin and he’s seen this kid before, so the non-cop has context with this kid; they’re now in a relationship with one another.
So he knows to talk, to reason with this kid from a safe distance.
He doesn’t fear disarmament by this kid because after using all his non-cop reasoning, he knows this kid is just angry his friend had been attacked.
Plus, he knows from witnesses at the first scene that this kid, a trained wrestler, didn’t throw one punch or use one take down in the melee.
In this dream, he offers a phone call to his parents, an escort back to where this black young man belongs.
He looks into his eyes and sees someone’s kid — not a threat — whose parents are expecting him back home from the university.
The non-cop writes a report about his two encounters for the logs. Everyone involved is alive, the glare of the media’s spotlights do not get turned on and Everette Howard, Jr. lives to enjoy his sophomore year at the University of Cincinnati, setting a fine example for his two younger siblings who are looking up to him.
Instead, Howard is dead, Taser use will be halted and overhauled, his parents will get $2 million, his siblings will get free UC educations and UC erects a memorial bench and plaque at the spot where Haas shocked Howard to unconsciousness.
Affixing dollar amounts to your child’s life must be one of the most degrading and debilitating tasks parents can take on; it cannot rank on any parent’s list of things to check off during child-rearing.
Parents meeting with undertakers also throws the universe into turmoil; it skews all types of natural orders.
But monetary damages within the judicial system work: Damages make negligent parties take notice, take heed, take a hit to their pocketbooks akin to two Taser barbs to the torso.
According to the Howards’ settlement with UC, the bench and plaque must be in place no later than Aug. 6 to mark their son’s death date.
I hope that bench becomes a place of solace, rest, reflection and peace for all of us who’ll sit there.
Haas is still on the job; his “police” powers have been stripped.
On Aug. 6, he should return to the scene.
Sit on that bench.
Think some things over.
And invite his fellow “officers.”
CONTACT KATHY Y. WIL SON : [email protected] .com