An air of unreality has settled over discussions of Cincinnati Police, and denial is becoming the basis for policy decisions.
Last week City Councilman John Cranley summoned reporters and neighborhood leaders to City Hall, saying he would announce "a proposal for a major change to the Cincinnati Police Division."
The hype was for nothing more than a proposal to hire 75 additional police officers. Perhaps more telling was Cranley's reasoning, which seemed to contradict established facts.
"We know our police officers have been working tirelessly since April," he said.
The statement might have served as an obligatory nod to the police, except for what Cranley said next. Asked to explain his remark in light of the slowdown by police officers since April, Cranley insisted there's been no slowdown.
"I don't believe it," he said. "Every officer I've talked to said they've been working very hard."
Pressed to explain the drop in arrests and traffic citations this year — which Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. and union president Keith Fangman attributed to poor morale after the riot — Cranley restated his belief there's been no slowdown.
"I think Mr. Fangman addressed that," he said. "We are not having a slowdown. That's not what he said, but he said, 'We promise you we'll be aggressive again. We just need you to support us.' Since then arrest rates are back up to where they were a year ago."
A sick institution
Cranley, appointed to city council in January, began the year talking about reform, denouncing racism as "America's original sin." He sponsored the ordinance forbidding racial profiling by police.
But like Mayor Charlie Luken, a fellow Democrat, Cranley seems to have moved to the right in the past few months. After earlier decrying the number of African Americans killed by Cincinnati Police — 15 in the previous five years — Luken now talks about the need to be supportive of police.
Luken first responded to the riots by saying Cincinnati needs "fundamental changes," a phrase Cranley aped in calling the hiring of 75 cops "major change." But the hiring of more police isn't what most people had in mind when the mayor promised reform.
Cranley, however, insists more police is exactly what the city needs.
"For five months, people have wanted bold action," he said. "I believe this is bold action. There's a culture of violence right now, a culture of permissiveness."
The latter phrase, too, is Cranley aping Luken, who has suggested "a permissive attitude" might have caused the upsurge in shootings in Cincinnati since April (see Curiously Strong Mayor issue of Aug. 23-29).
In April, the talk at City Hall was quite different. Instead of permissiveness, the city seemed concerned about excessive force by Cincinnati Police: the fatal police shooting of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old, and the use of rubber bullets and bean-bag missiles on peaceful protesters following Thomas' funeral (see Firing on Children issue of April 19-25).
That kind of violation of civil rights is endemic in Cincinnati, according to Dan La Botz, professor of history and Latin American studies at Miami University.
"This is not a case of rogue elements or a few bad eggs or bad apples," La Botz says. "It's a case of a sick institution."
Aside from the imperatives of justice or morality, police violence has economic consequences that should motivate the city, he says.
"It is unclear to me why the powers that be — the corporate business and political establishment — haven't perceived that they have to do something, from their own point of view," he says.
La Botz is a member of the March for Justice Steering Committee, which organized a national protest June 2 against the Cincinnati Police.
Complaints about excessive force did not begin with Thomas' death. Indeed much of the movement behind the protests in April had its roots in the suffocation death of Roger Owensby while in police custody last November and the massive show of force against peaceful protests during the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) one week later.
Two officers have been indicted in connection with Owensby's death. But the police response to the anti-TABD protesters — using Mace, tear gas and intimidation tactics — drew praise from Luken. Even after repeated acquittals and dismissal of charges against protesters and the filing of a series of civil-rights suits, city council failed to investigate police conduct.
The necessary step for reforming the police division is the resignation of the chief, according to La Botz.
"Chief Streicher has to go because he has been the chief of police throughout a period when the police have been demonstrably out of control and have violated the rights of citizens, particularly in the African-American community," La Botz says. "As the head of this institution, Streicher has not proven capable of recognizing the problem. Not recognizing the problem, he's taken no measures to do anything about it."
Streicher did not return calls to his office.
Since November, CityBeat has made numerous requests for interviews with the chief. Several times, as with this story, a spokesman for the police has asked for questions in writing but Streicher has never responded. ©