Friday, February 24, 2006

Why I Don't Trust CPD


Part Two - The second part of this story is hard for me to write. I've been putting it off all week and I finally know why.

A family's "Remember When" stories are not always about the good times. They can also be about the bad times you shared; stories that weren't stories when they happened. They were real events to be lived through and tried by. Only through a prism of distance and time do these events, under the best circumstances, become a source of shared laughter. Some events, even ones that are not tragedies can still be a tender spot. Years distant from this event, I have laughed about this story but writing the events down has touched a sore spot in my soul I didn't realize was still there.

Part I of this entry details my family’s "Remember When" event that we call "The Naked Man Story". This entry details another "Remember When" moment we call "The Jerk at the Drive-Thru".

My daughter was going to be two years old in a few months. She was growing up and fast on her way to becoming a demanding toddler rather than the quiet baby I had been living with. One of her latest obsessions at that time was orange juice. Any juice that wasn't the color of orange was met with her disdainful, baby "No, no. DUCE, DUCE!" I had to water it down a bit for her but she absolutely loved the stuff, downing it greedily whenever she wasn't dousing the house with OJ, waving around her sippy cup for the sheer glee of having her favorite drink.

My baby was asleep and I was sitting in the hallway of our apartment building talking to a neighbor. She was also a single mom, with a baby of her own, a few months younger than mine. She had moved in after I did and we quickly became friends. We chatted often like this, after our babies were in bed, and we would go over our days with them as only mothers can. I remembered suddenly that I was out of orange juice. My daughter would be up long before the nearest store opened and if I wanted juice I'd better go then. My neighbor would keep an ear out for both babies (both our doors were open) while I ran down to the drive-thru on the corner.

I walked out into the chill night air with only a few dollars in my pocket, not exactly happy, but not unhappy. The drive-thru would be closing soon and there was a short line of folks trying to get whatever they needed to get them through the night or the next morning. I hadn't been in line long when a few people got in line behind me. They were loud talking, laughing, just having a good time. One of the guys noticed me.

"Hey, wassup?" The tired line of young men everywhere trying to talk game. You couldn't tell it to look at me now, but I was pretty fine at 20-something. At any rate, I ignored him.

"What, you too good to talk to me? Wassup girl?" He said it like he was demanding a response. I really couldn't have cared less.

"Nothing," I said shortly without even turning around.

He said something to his friends that all made them laugh. He kept trying to talk game and I just didn't care. He was talking and laughing and then he bumped into me. He did it on purpose and by then I was more than annoyed.

"Jerk!" I hissed.

"Bitch!" he shot back.

"Oh just leave me alone!"

"Bitch."

"PUNK!"

Then he punched me. In my face. And he kept hitting me. I pushed him off but he kept hitting me. After my initial outrage and shock I finally started hitting back. I slapped the hell out of him and then we started wrestling. I thought hitting him or trying to push him off would get him off me, but he kept hitting me and pushing me.

I knew I didn't have a chance boxing but I was a hell of a wrestler and I had always been taught that a woman's strength is in her legs. I was able to get him off balance and before I knew it, we were rolling around on the ground, tussling.

I suppose he'd thought it would be an easy fight but I was determined to go down swinging. Suddenly he went from fighting me to trying to get away from me. He managed to push himself away from me and got to his feet. Although there were plenty of people standing in the drive-thru, not one person stopped this man from hitting me or tried to break up the fight. Now that he was on his feet, another man (finally) helped me up. He and another man stood between me and the punk who'd been hitting me, pushing him back when he tried to attack me again. The two men started discussing how to get me home safely. Finally, someone was willing to help me. I started to cry.

Then the police came.

Someone from inside the drive-thru had called them. They cut their sirens short but left their lights on. People started scattering left and right. A few people stayed just to see what would happen.

This had to be the most humiliating night of my life.

There were two officers, one man, one woman. One of the men inside the drive-thru came out and told them that he had called. He only knew there had been a fight from all the commotion outside. He hadn't actually seen what had happened.

The female officer went over to the guy who had hit me and asked him for his version. The male officer stayed with me. We both told them our sides of the story. Then the male officer asked me a question.

"Is he your boyfriend?"

"No. I never saw him before today. I don't even know his name. I told you, he kept trying to push up on me and I called him a punk and then he started hitting me."

"Are you sure you don't know him? Are you sure he's not your boyfriend?"

At this point, I was annoyed and I saw where they were headed but I was determined to make this clear.

"He is NOT my boyfriend. I do not know him."

"Ok, OK, you don't know him. Would you be willing to file charges against him?"

"Yes. I have to tell my neighbor to keep a watch out for my baby but I'll go with you right now." I was very shaky and I wanted to get away from this scene and I really wanted to leave with the police.

The female officer came over at this point. She actually left the Jerk standing by himself with his group of friends. I guess they could have caught him if he ran, but the fact that they left him alone made me angry. Despite the fact that the police were there, I in no way felt safe. If anything I felt more threatened.

The female officer asked me the same question. "Are you his girlfriend?"

"I am NOT his girlfriend."

"Ok, ok, what happened?"

I repeated the whole story to her and then the two police officers walked away from me to have a conversation.

There was nothing and no one standing between the Jerk and me. He could have run over and started hitting me again. I guess he wasn't stupid enough to do it in front of cops, but they made no effort to remotely protect me at all. They simply walked away, leaving him only a few feet away.

I followed them.

They looked annoyed but they did not make me go away. They simply continued their conversation as if I were not there.

"Look," the male cop said, "I know she says she's not his girlfriend, but I think this is just some domestic squabble. We can just drop him off around the corner and if she wants to file charges, she can do it in the morning."

"That's fine," the female cop agreed.

"Can't I go and file charges now? Can't you take me to the police station now? He is not my boyfriend! He's just some guy who started hitting me."

"Look, we can't waste time taking you down to the police station over something you're probably gonna feel different about tomorrow. If you really want to press charges you need to go on down to (I don't remember after all this time where he told me to go) and do it tonight because tomorrow morning we're dropping this.

"I only live up the hill, could you at least give me a ride home?"

They didn't respond. They simply went over to the guy and talked to him. I guess they decided they couldn't waste time putting him in the car and dropping him off around the corner because they left him right there. Then they got into their cars and left.

I was stunned.

I walked home alone, looking back over my shoulder every step of the way.

When I got there, I told my very worried neighbor what had happened. She had heard the police sirens and I had taken far too long for just a bottle of orange juice. She took my daughter to her apartment while I cleaned up and got ready to make the lonely trek to the police station.

Filing the charges was uneventful and obviously routine. I simply gave someone my statement, signed this and that. They told me that if I didn't show up in court, the charge would be dropped. Then I was done.

Except for the bruises and the hole inside me, it was as if nothing had happened at all.

There would be no orange juice the next day. We had groceries and household items enough to get through until my next check but that was the last money in the house. I had used the orange juice money to get to the police station and back.

My parents had been out of town. When they got back and I told my mother what happened she was concerned. She made sure we kept track of the court date. She went with me when I finally did testify. You may be interested to know that he was being tried on several charges that day and mine was one of many.

What my mother had the hardest time understanding was the behavior of the police on the scene. She could not believe the police had not treated me with the same courtesy they had shown us during the "Naked Man Story".

It was easy to see why they hadn't. We had been telling the story as a family and neighbors; Preacher father, schoolteacher mother, daughter with their baby granddaughter; friends and neighbors. It's hard to deny that many people in a group telling the same story. Together we had credibility. If we had all gotten together and said "The Cincinnati Police Department" killed this naked, vulnerable, druggie for no reason other than the fact that they were too lazy to "waste the time" to figure out how to bring him out alive, we could have been believed. And as the officer said at the time, "They didn't want the perception that the police had killed him."

However, with the "The Jerk at the Drive-Thru" story, there's only me, The Jerk and lots of people who were there but who really didn't want to be involved. I had no status as daughter of a Preacher and Schoolteacher or even innocent bystander as far as the police were concerned. In their eyes, I was too poor and too blinded by my emotions for my "boyfriend" to be worthy of their time.

I learned from this incident that if the police feel their asses are on the line (say, if they murder someone in front of you) then they will treat you with the utmost courtesy. If you are an every day citizen who is being attacked, don't be poor and alone.

They simply will not care.

And that is why I do not trust the Cincinnati Police Department.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Why I Do Not Trust the Cincinnati Police Department

Or anyone in the local news media for that matter

Part One
- Every family has their "Remember When" stories. In my family we refer to this as "The Naked Man Story". This story made the news but you would probably find very few people, if any, who remember this story about yet another black man who died while being apprehended by CPD; even I, who was there, do not know this man's name. This is one of those stories that may leave you humming "He Had It Coming" as if you just watched "Chicago" and can't get the tune out of your head. Yet some of the details and one question in particular still leave me wondering.

I lived with my one-year-old daughter in a tiny one-bedroom apartment at the top of a short, steep hill street called Intervine. My daughter had spent the weekend with my parents and they were bringing her home. I had been doing laundry and a friend who had taken me to the laundromat was having a well deserved glass of lemonade after helping lug all my stuff up the stairs.

My daughter and I were on the front porch, waving goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa when suddenly a man ran out of the apartment building onto the porch where my daughter and I were standing. He was stark naked and had a steak knife in his hand, the kind with the serrated edge and a wooden handle but still basically a table knife.

He said something like, "That bitch, she's after me. Help me."

I had seen a woman come and go from his place but I'm not the nosy neighbor type. I had no idea if it was his wife or girlfriend but I assumed that for whatever reason she had thrown him out with no clothes. I'd seen this on TV but never in real life and found that the reality made bad comedy.

"I just got done with my laundry. I think I can find you some shorts and a T-shirt that will fit," I offered.

He didn't answer except to keep mumbling to himself and then he started stabbing at his own legs with the steak knife. At this point, of course, my parents and I realized that this was no mere domestic squabble. I figured the man was high on something, but I was standing on the porch with my baby in my arms and no way to get away without attracting his attention.

My mother started walking towards the man. I have no idea what she was going to do and I was trying to motion to her to stay back. My stepfather moved toward her but she was already halfway up the stairs. All she saw was that her daughter and granddaughter were in danger. If he had given her the chance, she may have kicked his butt for all I know.

He ran towards her then he past her, past my stepfather and jumped into the backseat of their car. My stepfather thinking quickly locked the doors with his automatic key tag. The man was rocking back in forth in the back of the car, still talking crazily to himself and stabbing at his legs. He was bleeding now and the white interior of the car was stained heavily. My stepfather sent my mother and me inside to call 911 and he would stay outside with the crazy guy.

We ran inside, called 911 and explained this to my friend. We all went back into the entryway to watch what happened through the glass door. We were just in time to see the man jump out of the car and run stark naked down Intervine Hill. We'd forgotten that even with the car locked, the door would open if the latch were pulled from the inside. We watched as the naked man dodged behind a couple of houses and then was out of sight.

The police came soon after the naked man bolted. They saw us all standing outside and correctly guessed that we were the ones who called. We told them where the man had run and no sooner than we said it they got another update on their radios. The man was trapped inside one of the houses down the hill. He had run into a house where a lady rented rooms. When he barged in holding a knife, the two guys who lived there managed to shut him into a closet while the lady called 911. The policemen drove back down the hill in a hurry and entered the house where the naked man was trapped.

As we stood there waiting for the man to be brought out in handcuffs, news crews from Channel 9(WCPO) and Channel 12(WKRC) showed up. They interviewed my parents. I had nothing to say. We waited some more. The reporters gave updates at odd intervals and then waited with us.

Then the ambulance came.

What I was too young and naive enough to know back then is that when you call the police on a crazy, doped up black man, you have signed that man's death warrant. The man had been warned, then tasered and combined with whatever he was hopped up on it was enough to kill him. A police officer came over and gave us the news.

He also told us that although the man was already dead, they were going to bring him out of the building on a stretcher with the EMT's going through the motions of CPR. The last thing they needed was the perception that the police had killed him. The reporter nodded in agreement and turned to her camera guy to get ready for the naked man's exit. My parents, my friend and I all looked stunned. Before we could answer, the policeman walked away, waved at another cop and then they went through the ruse of trying to resuscitate a dead guy for the cameras.

The policemen were very kind to us. They drove us to the police station where they took our statements. They asked several times about the incident. We were also asked if we felt the officers should have handled things differently. I told them we never saw what they did in the first place so we had no idea. I could only tell them what happened up until the man ran down the hill. That's all anyone with me knew. My family nodded in agreement. That seemed to be a good enough answer. Since we didn't know what the officer's did we couldn't claim the man was killed.

Thinking about it later, I really didn't think they had. The man was obviously hopped up on something and that along with the taser was too much for his heart. That's what the cop had told us. I was so young it took me forever to really question this incident. If it wasn't their fault, why pretend the guy was alive when he came out of the house? Why were the reporters so willing to go along with the cops' story instead of reporting the truth? Did this type of thing happen between the press and police all the time?

Did the naked man have to die?

We answered a few more questions, there were some papers to sign (I have no idea what they were) and we were driven home. My parents got the damage repaired and the car cleaned but their memory of the incident couldn't be erased. It wasn't long before they got a new car. My friend never volunteered to take me to the laundromat again.

It would actually take another, and much more unpleasant run in with CPD before I would move away from Intervine.

(Part Two of this story will be posted on Friday, February 24.)
UPDATE: Link to Part II