Killing Us Softly

"But common things surprise us." ­ Gwendolyn Brooks Today I am black licorice, twisted and shiny. I feel particularly black. When cops keep on killing us, it's akin to stuffing a powder k

Nov 16, 2000 at 2:06 pm

"But common things surprise us."

­ Gwendolyn Brooks

Today I am black licorice, twisted and shiny. I feel particularly black. When cops keep on killing us, it's akin to stuffing a powder keg beyond its capacity. Question is, when will it blow? Why aren't we marching in the streets in as menacing a fashion to cops as they've become to us?

The rally at City Hall on Nov. 12, calling for action in the wake of the deaths of Roger Owensby and Jeffrey Irons while in police custody, was a good show but far too pedestrian.

Forget baseball. Turning the other cheek is the black man's unofficial National Pastime. And, because of it, white folks have nothing to worry about.

By our very nature, we're some of the most reasonable, forgiving, analytical and yet passive people alive.

If you kick us, we'll meet to figure out why you chose to kick and not hit. If you hit us, we'll rally to ask why you hit and didn't shoot. And if you shoot (and kill), we'll join hands and sing spirituals, wondering and praying that God will tell us when the shooting will stop.

All the while, we should be demanding to know why the taxpayer-subsidized lynchings ever began in the first place.

And why did they? I was raised to believe that the job of cops was to protect and serve — not to profile, overreact and murder. Someone, some group, some committee must be held accountable this instant. I mean, how is it that cops can kill two suspects within a day of each other and then, in the case of the asphyxiation death of Owensby, refuse to cooperate with an investigation that, if they're not guilty of wrongdoing, would surely clear them?

And why is there not a din, an audible outcry en masse, resonating throughout this city? I admit that I'm not one to protest in the very manner I'm suggesting others do. But I have my pen — though I wonder if it's truly mightier than the sword.

Honestly, I don't think so right now. Even if I were to call Cincinnati cops a roving pack of murderous boot-strapped thugs, the most that would happen is I'd get some ugly e-mails and sideways glances. I doubt it would move police administrators to pause and consider that perhaps something is amiss within their ranks.

My heart is aching, knowing that little, if anything, is likely to change.

The cycle goes like this in case you've been asleep: A black man is profiled and then detained. Someone gets anxious, and then some type of physical altercation ensues. The black man usually ends up dead or injured. The media is saturated with the course of the events, including images of some bewildered black folks squinting beneath the glare of the camera, trying to figure out what happened to their brother, father, cousin or uncle.

The cops are placed on administrative (i.e., paid) leave. Days fall away, and some official-sounding document is released all but absolving the force of its responsibilities. The Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police holds a press conference verbally slapping its boys on the back for doing a good job, while the rest of us talk around the water cooler about how fucked up the whole thing is.

Time eventually lulls us into walking on eggshells, forgetting until the next time. And life is the only thing separating us from the ones killed while the cops shuffle about saying, "Oops, my bad."

But we live helpless. So the questions remain: What quality of life is a helpless one? How are we living?

The answer resides within us all — the guilty and the dead alike.

contact Kathy y. wilson: [email protected]