Activists ready as Tensing trial nears

A rally and march Saturday organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter drew a diverse coalition of groups and individuals.

click to enlarge Audrey DuBose (right) leads an Oct. 22 march through Mount Auburn and Over-the-Rhine ahead of the trial for Ray Tensing, the former UCPD officer who shot her son Sam DuBose. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Audrey DuBose (right) leads an Oct. 22 march through Mount Auburn and Over-the-Rhine ahead of the trial for Ray Tensing, the former UCPD officer who shot her son Sam DuBose.

As former University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing stands trial for murder, activists say they'll keep pushing for justice for Samuel DuBose, the unarmed black motorist Tensing shot and killed in Mount Auburn last year.

More than 100 people turned out Oct. 22 for a rally and march organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter ahead of Tensing's trial, and many are prepared to protest outside the Hamilton County Courthouse when questioning of jurors kicks off in earnest Oct. 31.

Organizers with Black Lives Matter say they’re pushing to make sure Tensing is convicted for the shooting.

“There is no other force capable of changing the outcome of the decision in this trial but us,” organizer Brian Taylor told the crowd Oct 22. “You cannot get justice by sitting with your hands at your sides at home.”

click to enlarge Cincinnati Black Lives Matter member Ashley Pennington - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati Black Lives Matter member Ashley Pennington

Tensing’s trial began Oct. 25 with many of the more than 230 potential jurors turning in jury questionnaires. 12 jurors and about four alternates will be selected. There have been no protests outside the courthouse yet this week, though faith groups have met to pray for peace and justice.

Last week's rally started at Mount Auburn’s Inwood Park, just two blocks from where Tensing shot unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose July 19, 2015. Tensing stopped DuBose for a missing front license plate. The shooting was captured on the officer’s body camera, which shows him pulling the trigger after a brief exchange with DuBose. Tensing last year was indicted on murder and manslaughter charges and fired from UCPD.

The rally drew a diverse coalition of groups and individuals, including faith leaders like Troy Jackson from the AMOS Project, advocates for the American Indian Movement, civil rights advocates from the NAACP, students with UC’s Socialist Students group, representatives from the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Cincinnati poet Siri Amani and others.

Some spoke about police reforms, while others pushed back against larger socioeconomic disparities facing the black community in Cincinnati and beyond.

Audrey DuBose, mother of Samuel, also spoke to protesters and read from the Bible before leading the march down Vine Street to the Hamilton County Courthouse.

“I want to thank you all over and over again. We all need this. I know that this situation with my son is going to make a powerful change," she said before the march. “My child was murdered. This is my calling.”

The march moved slowly down Vine Street through Mount Auburn and into Over-the-Rhine, passing near the spot where unarmed black 19-year-old Timothy Thomas was shot and killed in 2001, sparking days of unrest. Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach was tried and acquitted in that shooting.

The neighborhoods have a lot in common with many other areas where law enforcement intertwines with poverty and racial issues — including those in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere that have seen controversial police shootings. Rice Street, where DuBose was shot, runs down the middle of much of the city’s Census Tract 23. Three-quarters of the tract’s residents are black and the median household income here is half the city’s overall median.

click to enlarge Protesters march down Vine Street ahead of the trial of Ray Tensing. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Protesters march down Vine Street ahead of the trial of Ray Tensing.

As the march moved further down Vine Street into Over-the-Rhine, a different story around racial inequality formed the backdrop. As it crosses Liberty Street, Vine goes from scrappy corner stores and vacant buildings to glittering shops and eateries. Mostly white patrons sat on patios outside upscale restaurants there, some expressing confusion or anger at the march.

Development efforts in southern OTR have changed the economic, and perhaps the racial, makeup of the area. South of Liberty Street, the median household income for the once-impoverished neighborhood is $40,000 and rising, according to 2010 Census data. North of Liberty, where little development has occurred, the median income is just $11,000.

The Census tract encompassing the neighborhood around southern Vine Street was nearly 60 percent black just a few years ago, according to the 2010 American Community Survey. But despite gaining overall population, the neighborhood has lost black residents, Census data suggests, who now make up less than 35 percent of its population.

Rosemary Parker of Faye Apartments came out for the rally and march. She expressed little faith that Tensing would be convicted, but wanted to show solidarity. For her, the issue is personal. She says she saw her brother beaten by police when she was 10 when her family lived in Connecticut.

“I came out to stand up for Sam DuBose and every other minority man who is subject to having that happen to them, as well as my grandbabies and my family,” she said, motioning toward her granddaughter as the two protested outside the courthouse.

click to enlarge A young rally attendee outside the Hamilton County courthouse at an Oct. 22 demonstration ahead of the trial for former UCPD officer Ray Tensing. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
A young rally attendee outside the Hamilton County courthouse at an Oct. 22 demonstration ahead of the trial for former UCPD officer Ray Tensing.

Following the march, a small group of UC students protested at the school's homecoming football game, kneeling and raising fists just outside UC's Nippert Stadium during the National Anthem.

As the trial approaches, UC is working on big changes to its police department, but still has work ahead of it, a UCPD official said at a conference on police reform this spring.

UCPD Director of Community Relations S. Gregory Baker called the DuBose shooting “an atrocity” and said the university is pushing to get a more diverse police force, change training officers receive, add more front-line managers overseeing patrol officers and a number of other changes in the coming months.

The school doubled the 35 officers it had in 2013 to 70 in just a year and a half. It is now the third-largest law enforcement agency in the county behind the Cincinnati Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. With that increased enforcement came huge racial disparities. Increased police activity led to a disproportionate number of stops and arrests of blacks. Traffic stops went up 300 percent to 2000 in 2015. Arrests also tripled.

During this time, stops of white individuals actually decreased. Black stops went way up, however. Tickets written by Tensing during the year before he shot DuBose went to blacks 81 percent of the time.

In the wake of the shooting, UCPD was ordered to roll back its involvement in the communities surrounding the school, like Mount Auburn. Officers can now only stop a person if they are imminently threating someone or if an officer witnesses them committing a crime. Otherwise, university police must call the Cincinnati Police Department.

The university has created a 19-member community advisory council that will weigh in on ongoing reform efforts. That council is made up of students, neighborhood residents around the university and faith leaders.

But activists say those reforms amount to little if Tensing isn’t convicted.

“This will not stop with reforms,” said organizer Ashley Pennington. “This won’t stop with body cameras. It won’t stop with better training. It stops when cops are convicted for killing people.”

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