News: Puttin' Out the Bone

Mike Allen's Punk Justice

My mom, God rest her soul, always told my brothers and me not to name call. Sure, you might disagree with someone on ideas, she would say, but always make sure your talk honors your values.

Then grade school and high school came and the Sisters of St. Joseph nurtured that same motif. They said that any clash should be intellectual, not personal.

Then came college and the Jesuits of Xavier University who demanded the dialogue always be driven by points and counterpoints, not vulgarity. These people tag-teamed Jene Galvin into the principled man he is today.

Blah, blah, blah. Screw all that. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen is nothing but a political punk. Away from the civic fray, he's an affable guy.

But put a county prosecutor plaque over his door and flip on the TV lights, and he becomes a world-class conservative, Republican, illogical, political punk.

Check it out. When a Hamilton County grand jury recently indicted a black kid just out of grade school — for pulling a white working man from Kentucky out of his truck during the April unrest in Over-the-Rhine — Allen rushed before every reporter in town to boast the harshest charge possible, even clamoring for an adult hate-crime count, which would put the kid in jail for years.

Then he raced to the radio talk shows to pander to every last white suburban listener Clear Channel Inc. could round up, so we would implacably know which side of Cincinnati's racial divide Mike Allen stood on. He sadly and unabashedly did what politicians often do. He protected his political base.

I listened to him, watched him and read his quotes. He sounded like Wyatt Earp's opponent in a tight race for sheriff of Dodge City. He was militant, emphatic, downright cocky. When he was done, you knew who the victim was and who the bad guy was.

Then I dug out newspaper copies from a few weeks earlier, which reminded me of the stark contrast in tone between his presentation of the indictments against the teen-ager and ones against Officer Stephen Roach, who killed unarmed Timothy Thomas and then allegedly lied to police investigators about it.

With Roach's rollout, there was no swagger, no certainty. Rather, Allen tiptoed forward with comments intended to sound fair and unifying. He enumerated the unprecedented long list of witnesses he called before his grand jury. My gosh, you were led to note, he even brought in the victim's mom. He stressed how long he spent on this indictment process compared to usual, the great care taken to make sure everyone's judicial interests were protected.

Yes, he said, calmly, Roach would face a trial. But, no, he said gently, his actions did not justify any charge stronger than negligence. In the end, he sounded as much like Roach's defense lawyer as he did the man supposed to help bring cold, hard justice to the killer of Timothy Thomas.

C'mon, I thought. Where was that usually strident Mike Allen who makes us regular suckers know that bad guys will suffer as long as we keep electing him? I mean, if he wasn't a hypocritical, illogical, conservative political punk, he would have broken in on talk shows to announce, "No Cincinnati that I'm prosecutor over will tolerate a rogue cop who pops a cap into an unarmed kid just because he's running scared from some seat belt warrants!"

That would have been the Allen I know from shows on WKRC (550 AM) and WLW (700 AM).

He could have gone on: "Stephen Roach didn't follow any police regulations I ever read when I was a Cincinnati Police officer. No. He went beyond rules and even human standards. He now faces the harshest consequence my office could recommend to a grand jury. And by the way (he could have coolly lowered his voice here), let his judicial predicament stand as a warning to any cop who thinks about casually pulling a trigger on an unarmed civilian instead of protecting him."

Then just to dramatize his support for lifeless Timothy Thomas, he could have walked off microphone blurting, "No questions." But we saw and heard none of that.

Look. Cincinnati faces the greatest racial divide in its history. The long bridge across is fragile. Only trust will gradually build its strength. When black and white people in Hamilton County saw Allen soft pedal the Roach case and slam dunk the young teen, it was obvious Allen wasn't going to be any help.

Without question, anyone who pulls a working stiff or anyone else out of their vehicle and pounds them merely because of their skin color deserves the harshest possible consequences. The same is true of someone who beats a man to death because of his lifestyle. Or someone who drags a guy behind a truck to his last breath simply because he's black.

No one with sense and judgment can defend visiting hate or violence against the innocent. But it's also true that Timothy Thomas himself did nothing to justify a mortal bullet — not running, not leaving his seat belt off, not fearing cops.

But our city's problems are deeper than those obvious truths. We sit in single-race clusters and dislike and distrust each other. Flip between WDBZ (1230 AM) and WKRC and hear it. Scan letters to the editor and see it. Talk across the back fence and learn it. Notice windows rolled up tight on cars with vanity license plates rolling through downtown, blocking out more than the heat of summer.

So who brings us together? Radio stations bent on profit? Politicians worrying about their base? Ministers who, kids say, don't listen? Cincinnati C.A.N.?

One thing's for sure. It won't be Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. When he had his chance to show objectivity, when he could have convinced African Americans that he would give them the same passion for justice, the same supportive rhetoric for one of their victims, he fell short. Way short. Punk short.

CONTACT JENE GALVIN: [email protected]

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