Pain, anger, and frustration combined with disbelief filled the crowd that gathered midday Saturday at Hamilton County Courthouse over the hung jury in the trial of Ray Tensing, the University of Cincinnati Police officer charged with murder in the shooting of an unarmed black man.
“I’m crying for justice. I’m crying for the God of the oppressed to show his face. We need him,” said Elizabeth Hopkins, 31, of the Amos Project, speaking to the crowd from the courthouse steps.
“We demand an immediate retrial,” said Ashley Harrington, 25, a member of the Black Lives Matter Cincinnati steering committee, citing the record of non-indictments, not guilty decisions, and acquittals in police shootings of black men.
“A system that does not respect black lives does not deserve respect in return,” Harrington said.
Tensing, a white University of Cincinnati police officer, shot and killed Sam DuBose, an unarmed black motorist, following a traffic stop in Clifton in 2015. He was indicted for murder and a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, but the jury was unable to reach the unanimous decision necessary to convict him on either charge.
On Saturday morning, the presiding judge declared a mistrial prompting the Countdown to Conviction coalition and Black Lives Matter Cincinnati to call for a rally at the courthouse to demand that Tensing be retried for murder. On short notice, several hundred people turned out for the midday rally.
The decision to retry rests with county prosecutor Joe Deters. After the trial, Deters reiterated to local media his belief that Tensing murdered DuBose. But he was unwilling to say whether he would pursue a retrial.
“He purposely killed him,” said Deters in the July 29, 2015 press conference announcing the murder indictment against Tensing and the warrant for his arrest. At the press conference, Deters described the killing as “totally unwarranted,” “an absolute tragedy,” “senseless,” and “just horrible.”
“He purposely killed him.”
Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters, July 2015
Referring to Ray Tensing’s fatal shooting of Sam DuBose as murder
The situation should never have escalated to a man losing his life, said Deters in the 2015 press conference. “[Tensing] wasn’t dealing with somebody wanted for murder. He was dealing with someone without a front license plate. This is, in the vernacular, a very chicken crap stop.”
Sam DuBose was one of 965 people fatally shot by police in the U.S. in 2015, according to The Washington Post. Of these, 90 people, about 10 percent, were unarmed like DuBose.
The Guardian, which also maintains a database of people killed by police, reports that in Ohio 30 people were fatally shot by police in 2015 of whom 13 were black and 17 were white. Blacks and whites make up 12.2 percent and 82.7 percent, respectively, of Ohio’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The year-to-date data compiled by The Guardian for 2016 show a similar pattern in Ohio–25 fatal police shootings of which 11 were black, 11 were white, and 3 were of other race or ethnic backgrounds.
Charges are rarely filed in fatal police shootings. However, indictments of police officers tripled to 18 in 2015, compared to 5 per year on average between 2005 and 2014, The Washington Post reported. A video record of the shooting is said to be the key factor in the increased number of indictments.
Although indictments have increased, there were no convictions of police officers for murder or manslaughter in 2015 or in 2014. Most police shootings are found to be justified homicides in which deadly force was used lawfully to protect an officer’s safety. This is Tensing’s defense.
“We know the justice system is biased,” Harrington said. “It is a racist institution proven to have scales that tilt away from people of color. It not only leans toward, but stands on the side of, police when they are accused of a crime.”
Harrington also called into question the “special and undemocratic measures” taken during the trial citing limited media and public access that left the public uninformed about the character of the jury.
She also questioned the selection criteria for jurors. “The fact that someone who has attended an action against police brutality be disqualified from the jury is outrageous,” she said.
Deters describes his job as one of seeking justice and doing the right thing. In this case, he said he wanted justice for the DuBose family and for the community and its relationship with the police. Deters personally tried the case, but the jury was not convinced.
The pulsing chop of two helicopters could be heard overhead, as the crowd left the courthouse steps to cross Main Street.
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac stood like a beacon at the crosswalk, while about eight Cincinnati Police Department officers in standard policing gear stood calmly behind their bicycles, close to the crowd. The air was crisp, and the sky was clear, blue, and sunny.
As the rally moved west on East Court Street, it merged seamlessly with the anti-Trump rally moving south on Walnut Street. The combined rally moved peacefully through the streets of Cincinnati, perhaps 1,000 or more souls seeking justice after the mistrial and the divisive election.
At West 9th Street, CPD police on bicycles backed by officers in riot gear turned the rally north on Central Avenue, preventing access to two I-75 on-ramps. Isaac and City Council Member Yvette Simpson quickly intervened to clarify any misunderstanding about the route of the march.
The rally turned north, moved east on 12th Street, north on Vine, then west on 13th Street, finally arriving at the gazebo in Washington Park, where representatives of the Countdown to Conviction Coalition and the “Peaceful Protest to Stop Trump” event addressed the crowd.
“Justice is the vehicle to peace,” said a representative of Over-the-Rhine Community Church, which she described as a church that is willing to talk about and act on systemic racism.
“We must disrupt the fake peace that surrounds us,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. “We must disrupt the idea that this system doesn’t really want to hurt black people, when it keeps doing it over and over and over again.” As an example, Spring cited the adverse effects of Over-the-Rhine redevelopment on the area’s low-income black residents.
“We need to build a party of the 99 percent to go against the establishment that brought us here today,” urged Emma Wilson of the Cincinnati Socialist Alternative.
People need to stand together because all struggles are interconnected, said Bonnie Neumeier, co-chair of the board of Peaslee Neighbor Center and founder of the OTR People’s Movement. Neumeier said she was sharing the thoughts of Buddy Gray, the Cincinnati activist and spirited voice for the homeless and poor who was shot dead in 1996.
“The only way that we will ever make a difference is if we realize what my faith tradition and many other faith traditions say–is that we are to love one another,” said Hopkins. “That is all that will heal this land.”
“We will not stay silent,” said Harrington. “The Countdown to Conviction coalition and Black Lives Matter Cincinnati will fight until Tensing is in jail.”
By Mike Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org