Thousands turn out to protest police shootings as DuBose anniversary nears

The peaceful gathering was perhaps the largest in the city in the two years since the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. put issues around race and law enforcement in the national consciousness.

A crowd of thousands gathered Sunday afternoon outside Cincinnati Police Department headquarters in the West End for a rally and march organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter.

The peaceful gathering was perhaps the largest in the city in the two years since the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. put issues around race and law enforcement in the national consciousness. It was planned in just days in response to the one-two punch of a police shooting in Louisiana last Thursday followed the next day by another grisly officer-involved shooting in Minnesota. Both were caught on video.

“In the past week, we’ve watched the brutal, inhumane, barbaric execution of Alton Starling and Philandro Castile,” Black Lives Matter organizer Ashley Harrington said, referring to the police shootings. “I’ve watched a 4-year-old girl in Falcon Heights, Minnesota console her mother after they watched a police officer shoot her mother’s boyfriend through the window of a car. I’ve watched a15- year-old boy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana sob uncontrollably in front of television cameras because he was no longer able to hold the pain of losing his father.

“We are here today because we know black lives matter," Harrington told the crowd. "We know that we can no longer continue to exist in a society that murders black lives.”

Black Lives Matter organizer Ashley Harrington speaks to a crowd of thousands at a rally July 10 outside CPD headquarters in the the West End.

Black Lives Matter organizer Ashley Harrington speaks to a crowd of thousands at a rally July 10 outside CPD headquarters in the the West End.

Nick Swartsell

Castile's shooting happened during a traffic stop after he notified an officer he had a legal handgun and a concealed carry permit. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed the aftermath on Facebook. Millions saw her calmly complying with orders from an officer still pointing a handgun at her while she comforted her four-year-old daughter, who was in the car's backseat. As the officer yelled and cursed, Castile laid in the front seat bleeding out. Starling's death was equally brutal: he was shot point blank while pinned down by two officers.

The shootings have sparked protests across the country, including one in Dallas last week that took its own dark turn. Micah Johnson, a lone gunman police say spoke of hurting white police officers and making nonsensical, possibly delusional statements, barricaded himself in one of the upper floors of a downtown building and shot 11 police officers, killing five. Dallas Police eventually killed Johnson with a robot designed to disarm bombs loaded with explosives.

In addition to the tumultuous national events, Cincinnati's march also came less than a week before the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Avondale resident Samuel DuBose at the hands of University of Cincinnati police. That shooting is just the latest chapter in Cincinnati’s painful struggle with its issues around race and policing — one that has often played out in the national spotlight, and which continues to vex the city.

Police arrest data for 2015 up to October of that year shows that 2,090 of CPD’s 2,936 felony arrests were of black citizens. Of the department’s 13,447 misdemeanor arrestees, 9,430 were black.

That arrest disparity has proven stubborn. In 2001 and the years immediately after, the ratio of black citizens arrested hovered around 77 percent. The rate has been as high as 83 percent as recently as 2013, and in 2014, black citizens again accounted for 77 percent of felony arrests by CPD.

DuBose’s mother and other members of his family were present for the rally in front of CPD headquarters. His mother, Audrey, spoke emotionally about his death.

“We best go to battle,” she said. “Don’t wait for it to happen to your child. The time is now.”

Following her remarks, organizers played a track written by Sam DuBose before his death on the subject of police brutality.

“I had a dream like Luther King and woke up like I could change things,” the song intoned. “We need a whole lot of justice, because it feels like it’s just us.”

Audrey DuBose, mother of Sam Dubose, speaks to the crowd at a July 10 Black Lives Matter rally outside Cincinnati Police headquarters in the West End.

Audrey DuBose, mother of Sam Dubose, speaks to the crowd at a July 10 Black Lives Matter rally outside Cincinnati Police headquarters in the West End.

Nick Swartsell

Afterward, thousands marched through downtown before looping back to Over-the-Rhine, where many attendees broke off to lay flowers at the foot of a tree near where Cincinnati Police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed Timothy Thomas in 2001, setting off three days of civil unrest in Cincinnati.

Many marchers said they feared a similar fate could befall their loved ones.

“We’re here for our brothers, our fathers, our children, our uncles,” Monique Blakes of Mount Healthy said during the march. “The whole situation is why we’re here. They want us to forget, but we can’t forget. How can we forget when it happens every other day?”

The march ended at Washington Park with marchers filing past those lounging on its shaded deck and playing in its fountains through the renovated green spaces before gathering around the space’s central gazebo. There, organizers read the names of hundreds of people of color who have died in encounters with police. Another organizer, Jarrod Welling-Cann, spoke about the connection between institutional racism and gentrification, which has become a big issue in Over-the-Rhine. As many as 1,400 blacks have left the rapidly redeveloping neighborhood in the past decade, according to a report by the Urban League issued last year. Tensions around displacement in OTR mirror larger issues around economics and race in Cincinnati, where the median household income for blacks is just $23,000, compared to $48,000 a year for whites.

Following a closing chant, the large crowd dispersed peacefully. There were no arrests, though a number law enforcement officers followed the march, including a large group in a Metro bus that trailed behind protesters. Black Lives Matter organizers arranged both volunteer marshals along the route to keep marchers safe and on-call legal representation in case any were arrested during the event.

The local conversation around police shootings seems far from over. Cincinnati this coming weekend will host the national NAACP convention, a gathering that will likely bring opportunity for discussion around race and policing. And further down the road, former UCPD officer Ray Tensing is scheduled to go on trial for shooting DuBose Oct. 24, more than a year after DuBose’s July 19, 2015 death.

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