National Co-Chair, Bill Fletcher (bfletcher4 [at] compuserve.com)
[NOTE: For further information, visit the Black Radical Congress web site at:]
The situation in Cincinnati almost reminds one of advertisements for the 1970s film Jaws: just when you thought that it was safe to go back into the water… Just when many people thought that it could not get any worse, another blatant example of police abuse and murder.
After well-publicized police abuse and terror nationally, we have now witnessed the murder and burial of Timothy Thomas, yet another Black person executed by the police. Were Cincinnati more of a major media market we might have been better prepared for this new atrocity. Were Cincinnati more of a major media market, we may have better grasped the history of police abuse conducted in that city against the Black population.
It was not the murder of Timothy Thomas that surprised many, but the outrage and rebellion on the part of the city’s Black population. Clearly Black people in Cincinnati had had enough. Their fury could no longer be contained and therefore exploded. Ours is not to address the dynamics of the rebellion but to affirm that the outrage was just and that only by calling attention to police rampages and lawlessness will we be able to bring it to a halt.
Some have said that the murders in Cincinnati should not have been a surprise because Cincinnati is Klan country, i.e., very conservative with a history of terror deployed against Black people, reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. This may be true, but the growing attention to police terror in the USA more than anything else reaffirms Malcolm X’s old adage: the South is everything south of the Canadian border. Thus, most recently the terror was in Cincinnati, but it has also happened in New York, Los Angeles…
The bottom line, whether in Cincinnati with Timothy Thomas, or New York with Amadou Diallo, is control. It is not simply a matter of racial fear, or even racial profiling. Those are all symptoms of a much deeper issue. It is about the control over the movements of the Black population, and thereby the complete frustration of democracy. The continued reality of police terror facing people of color generally, and Black people in particular, remains a legacy from slavery and the absolute control which the overseers had over us. Police terror ensures that we understand the limits placed on us and that we continue to lack any rights that the racist state is bound to respect.
If Cincinnati proves anything, it is that the struggle against police terror cannot and should not be handled exclusively on the local level. After the funerals are over, and the tearful words have been uttered, the situation more often than not returns to the status quo. Even after rebellions such as in Cincinnati, or in Los Angeles in 1992, the larger system generally finds a means to excuse away the police terror and to placate many of its most outspoken critics.
The Black Radical Congress suggests that Cincinnati must be a symbol of why we must fight the police state nationally and locally! We must demand, as we are advancing in our national petition campaign, a federal statute criminalizing police terror. The assumption of Black guilt is so pervasive in this system that allowing, by our silence or acquiescence, these executions to be treated as accidents turns unfortunate situations into absurdity.
This is a time for action. We must cry for Timothy Thomas. We must grieve with his family and friends. But more than anything else we must organize. In Cincinnati, the call that we should support nationally has emerged from the Black community: the removal of the City Manager, Police Commissioner and Public Safety Director. There must be accountability for this situation of racist lawlessness, particularly given the demonstrated history of atrocities.
At the national level, in addition to support for Cincinnati’s Black community, we must push the demand for criminalizing police terror. This issue must be raised in every Black community newspaper, every pulpit, but also in city council meetings, on talk radio programs, and in the streets.
It is not enough for us to express support to those in Cincinnati carrying out a valiant fight against police terror. The time to nationalize this issue and to sustain a national campaign has arrived. Enough is enough!