Nowhere Man

Upstanding Christian father and dedicated cop or a bald-faced liar hovering below the radar of departmental discipline? A pillar of the community deserving an outpouring of support or a spin control

Aug 1, 2002 at 2:06 pm

Upstanding Christian father and dedicated cop or a bald-faced liar hovering below the radar of departmental discipline? A pillar of the community deserving an outpouring of support or a spin controller epitomizing the cult of personality of cops who behave recklessly and skate wrongdoing?

Suspended veteran Lt. Col. Ron Twitty might be as schizophrenic as they come. Which is it? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

We all know people like Twitty. Then again, no one really knows people like Twitty.

A hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich, and black heroes operate on CP time. For the uninitiated, that's Colored People's time. They're late.

Yet Negroes in Cincinnati are so thirsty for black heroes that we've settled. And just as sediment floats to the bottom of a glass of murky Ohio River water, Twitty's been absolved from his half-telling-lawyer-speak-of-a-flimsy-excuse explaining what happened to his city-owned car.

"He can't explain what happened because he didn't witness the damage," said Sharon Zealey, Twitty's attorney. That's lawyer-ese for "He didn't witness it but that doesn't mean he doesn't know what happened."

Twitty's supporters are clinging to his nice-guy image, that of the former patrolman who kept a Bible in his squad car. That doesn't make him incapable of wrongdoing. Any cop worth his badge will tell you that along with all the honor and responsibility accompanying police work there's twice as much temptation and humanity.

And there are loopholes big enough to shove a misstep through.

Missing among the throngs of Twitty supporters is one who might counsel him not to lay back and enjoy this lap dance of misplaced black loyalty that's at direct odds with misplaced white authority.

Be mindful that, throughout the course of his career, Twitty was thrust forward. From jump he was never gung-ho to be a cop. Once he was, affirmative action — the right place/ right time dumb luck of fate — conspired with the Cincinnati Police Department's need for a black face in the upper ranks. He became that Go-To Negro.

In 1993, the Fraternal Order of Police tried blocking Twitty's promotion over white cops with higher scores, citing affirmative action — an evil as necessary as cops themselves — as the wrong tool to put him in place near the top. Needing a less whitewashed division, city fathers created an extra captain's slot especially for Twitty.

Five years later, then-City Manager John Shirey added the assistant chief position to again add color to the force's upper ranks.

This begs the question: How would you feel if the yellow brick road to a comfortable retirement in a career you kinda fell into was paved with added positions and unspoken Golden Black Boy status? Would you feel put upon, like your smile would crack if you had to smile it just one more time?

By now, what happened isn't nearly as sexy as what will happen. That is, what type of race-tinged-not-quite-guilty-we-can't-catch-him-in-a-lie back-room deal will be brokered between Twitty and the city because Chief Tom Streicher commandeered an accusatory press conference?

Because the press conference was premature and overboard doesn't let Twitty out of the noose, though. But because only God and Twitty know what really happened, does that mean he shouldn't be punished? And because Cincinnati has an unprecedented and uncorrected record of underdisciplined and overcongratulated cops, is it time to set an example?

I don't think Twitty is coming completely clean about what allegedly and actually happened to his mysteriously banged-up Ford Taurus. Now that the investigation has landed on the desk of Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, I'm skeptical that a special grand jury will ferret out the elusive truth of the matter.

Indulge my Dionne Warwick psychic friendliness as I offer a few predictions.

This situation will fade to black under a hovering cloud of suspicion, whispers, innuendo and a gag order or two. Some type of settlement will be handed over to Twitty in lieu of an apology for the assumption of guilt put forth at the press conference. Then Twitty will either slink away with said settlement and his pension or, if white guilt rules out, get said settlement and return to work unblemished.

The point here isn't that the Twitty situation is another nail in Cincinnati's racial coffin or that it was responsible for the National Urban League cancelling its convention.

Here's the point: The Go-To Negro probably never was and maybe never wanted to be any of the things we foisted on him. He just happened to be a cop who now happens to be in trouble.

And he also happens to be a real nowhere man.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.