As trial intensifies, advocates rebuild DuBose memorial

A group of about 50 activists, faith leaders and community members came Nov. 3 to rebuild a memorial to Sam DuBose, the slain 43-year-old father and musician, which had been removed at the order of Hamilton County Courts earlier in the week.

click to enlarge Brian Taylor of Cincinnati Black Lives Matter preparing to hang a portrait of Sam DuBose at the spot where officials removed an earlier memorial. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Brian Taylor of Cincinnati Black Lives Matter preparing to hang a portrait of Sam DuBose at the spot where officials removed an earlier memorial.

They came with hammers to pry rusted nails from the leaning telephone pole on the corner of Rice and Valencia streets.

They came with candles to supplement the dim yellow streetlight at the intersection in the often-unvisited, low-income and predominantly black neighborhood that sits at the foot of Christ Hospital.

They came with photos, flowers, stuffed animals and a letter, sealed against the weather in a plastic bag, in remembrance of Samuel DuBose.

And they came with a microphone and speakers to fill this normally-quiet enclave in Mount Auburn with music and their voices — voices of family members speaking about their love for DuBose, voices from Black Lives Matter activists expressing anger at his death at the hands of then-University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing, voices from faith leaders and community members asking for change and for justice. DuBose, who was unarmed when he was shot, was black. Tensing is white.

"I want everyone to remember that Samuel DuBose was someone's father, someone's son, many of our friend and a citizen of our city," said Cincinnati NAACP Vice President Nicole Taylor. "The actions taken against him were unjustified. But the way we keep his memory alive is by continuing to fight.We are searching for accountability, and the way we get accountability is by tackling the laws and policies that have given immunity to those who kill us."

click to enlarge As trial intensifies, advocates rebuild DuBose memorial
Nick Swartsell

The group of about 50 people came Nov. 3 to rebuild a memorial to the slain 43-year-old father and musician, which had been removed at the order of Hamilton County Courts earlier in the week.

“This is so beautiful,” Audrey DuBose, Sam’s mother, said when the memorial was finished.

Tensing is currently standing trial on murder and manslaughter charges in DuBose’s death after an indictment from Hamilton County prosecutors. Officials say the memorial was removed so as not to influence the jury, which visited the site Oct. 31 in tinted buses.

The removal exposed a wide gulf between the courts and some in the community.

“They removed this memorial in an effort, they claim, to keep jurors from having their minds affected by sympathy for the memorial,” said Black Lives Matter organizer Brian Taylor. “They’re trying to objective, they say. But what about bringing a majority white jury into a neighborhood where they’ve never set foot, sticking them on a shaded bus in a corner? What does that do to objectivity?”

The jury is composed of six white men, four white women and two black women. Four white women serve as alternates. The jury is about 16 percent black in a county that is 26 percent black and a city that is 46 percent black. The neighborhood where DuBose died is 75 percent black. No black men were selected for the trial. During their visit to the neighborhood, the jurors were not allowed off of county-supplied buses with tinted windows because officials feared they would be photographed.

The moment illustrates the tight grip officials have kept on the trial.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan, who is presiding over the case, has ordered no jurors be photographed by members of the press and has refused to release juror information, including names. That move is most likely intended for their protection, but it’s unusual, even in a murder case. Other moves have also kept the lid sealed tight. Court officials placed the trial in one of the courthouse’s smallest rooms — capacity 81 people — limiting access to the public and the press.

The proceedings have moved quickly.

During opening statements, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters promised evidence that would disprove Tensing's defense, mostly from Tensing's own body camera footage. But Tensing defense attorney Stew Mathews has pushed back at the significance of that evidence.

“I think I must have been watching a different tape,” Mathews countered in his opening statement. “[Tensing’s] intention was to stop the threat that Sam DuBose was posing to him when he discharged the weapon.”

On the day of the vigil, Grant Fredericks, a forensic video expert testifying for the prosecution, took jurors through Tensing’s body camera footage frame-by-frame, more or less dismantling many of the claims the former UCPD officer made in his own defense.

Tensing has said that DuBose’s car was moving and dragging him when he fired — but the video analysis showed that the car did not start forward until a fraction of a second before Tensing fired. It also showed Tensing’s legs, standing upright, in reflection in DuBose’s car door a split-second before he fires his weapon.

Tensing has said that he had his arm tangled in the steering wheel, yet the video evidence showed his left hand grasping DuBose’s seatbelt as his right pointed the gun at DuBose’s head and fired.

Defense attorney Mathews has promised more analysis of the video that he says will corroborate Tensing’s version of events. He lashed out at Fredericks, asking how much the prosecution had paid him for his testimony.

click to enlarge Audrey DuBose lights a candler for her son, Samuel DuBose, who was shot by then-UCPD officer Ray Tensing July 19, 2015. The car DuBose was driving came to rest at this telephone pole. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Audrey DuBose lights a candler for her son, Samuel DuBose, who was shot by then-UCPD officer Ray Tensing July 19, 2015. The car DuBose was driving came to rest at this telephone pole.

Just hours after what could prove to be a pivotal and dramatic day in court, however, the dry procedures of the trial seemed distant as candles cut through the darkness that settled into the low-lying blocks where DuBose was shot. The pain of his loss was more visceral, more present.

Family members spoke of their faith and their warm memories of DuBose. They called for peace.

“We took a grave loss,” Yvonne DuBose Lackey, DuBose’s aunt, said. “Sam was a beautiful, spirited young man, full of life, full of love. Oh my God, I don’t know a heart or a spirit larger than his. To be snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye — it hurts. But regardless of what the verdict might be, be still. We must know that their arms are much too short to box with God. If by chance this man will walk away, due to man’s justice, he won’t escape the wrath of God.”

Activists, meanwhile, promised more protests, especially outside the courthouse, where Black Lives Matter members have been convening daily.

click to enlarge As trial intensifies, advocates rebuild DuBose memorial
Nick Swartsell

“No matter what they decide, there is no justice. Justice is having no picture right here,” said Brian Taylor, pointing a portrait of DuBose nailed to the pole. Taylor decried the lack of convictions in high-profile police shootings in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland and elsewhere.

“What is different in Cincinnati that has us so close to the gavel falling in favor of the family?” Taylor asked those gathered at the newly rebuilt memorial. “You are the difference. Your actions directly effect what happens.”

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