Film wants world to see effect of police deadly force on blacks

by LP Green, II

In 2001, April Martin was a production assistant for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati when riots rocked the city after an unarmed black man was fatally confronted by police — the second such incident in five months.

The media coverage of the civil unrest disturbed Martin, a black woman living in a quiet, mostly white suburb.

“The story that was reported wasn’t being reported accurately,” she said.

“The police brutality, some of the underlying problems, were not being talked about.”

Martin decided to make the film Cincinnati Goddamn, centered on the two shootings and their repercussions.

(The title is a take on Mississippi Goddam, a 1963 song by Nina Simone about the killing of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss.)

The movie will be screened on Wednesday at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Martin and co-director Paul Hill will be part of a panel discussion along with community activitist Iris Roley and Rhonda Y. Williams, professor of history and founder and director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Treva Lindsey, an assistant professor the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University, will moderate the event, which is part of the series “Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change.”

Hill, studio editor of the Wexner Center Film/Video Studio Program, began working with Martin after she had been accepted for a residency run by the program.

Much of the footage of the unrest came from news films and recordings by a social activist.

“A lot of the shell was there, but we needed to fill in a lot of holes,” Hill said. “In doing that, we decided to collaborate. I was making a lot of decisions that were outside an editor’s role, so we became co-collaborators of the piece.”

From 1995 to 2001, 15 black men died in confrontations with Cincinnati police officers. (During the same span, no whites were killed by police.) Some of the men — including Daniel Williams, who shot an officer four times before being killed — had committed violent crimes.

But the deaths of two men who weren’t armed inflamed a black community already suspicious of police.

On Nov. 7, 2000, Army veteran Roger Owensby Jr., 29, was slammed to the ground, placed in a chokehold, sprayed with Mace and beaten. An officer had suspected Owensby of running from him a few weeks earlier and, when confronted by police outside a convenience store, Owensby tried to run.

He died soon after the confrontation, with the cause of death listed as “mechanical asphyxiation.”

Five months later, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas — who was wanted for more than a dozen misdemeanor warrants — ran from police and, upon reaching for his waistband, was fatally shot. Police thought he was reaching for a gun; witnesses said he was pulling up his pants.

For five days in April 2001, African-Americans took to city streets, demanding changes in what they viewed as a police force too quick to use deadly force against blacks.

Later, three white officers were tried in the two deaths. Two were exonerated, and one case ended in a mistrial.

“For me, white America needs to see that all black lives matter,” said Martin, now living in West Oakland, Calif.

“Whenever someone dies, our question should not be: ‘What did they do?’ It should be: ‘What did the police do? How did the police escalate the situation?’??”

The riots accelerated changes. After the Cincinnati Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in 2001, the city, the Fraternal Order of Police and the two groups signed an agreement to improve relations between police and the community.

“The collaborative changed the policies and procedures of the police,” said Martin, 36. “You haven’t seen as many killings by the Cincinnati police. We had two new police chiefs from outside the city when, before, all the chiefs were from the white west side of Cincinnati.”

White Americans, said Hill, who is white himself, need to be involved.

“White people tend to stay silent and watch the news, but they don’t really get involved,” said Hill, 44. “But staying silent is just as bad as supporting the oppressive issues.”

Cincinnati returned to the news on July 19, after Ray Tensing, a white officer with the University of Cincinnati Police Department, fatally shot Samuel Dubose, a black motorist who had tried to drive away after being stopped for not having a front license plate.

Tensing said he feared that Dubose would run over him, but on July 29 he was indicted on murder charges.

“We’re at a historic moment,” Martin said. “How are people going to change the course of history? What kind of conversation are you going to have with your neighbors or friends when another black person dies?”

by Terry Mikesell from The Columbus Dispatch

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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