As a lawyer, I know how hard it can be to get an indictment, let alone justice, when people of color die at the hands of police. That’s why I commend the quick action of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who indicted University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing on Wednesday for the murder of Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man.Footage from a body camera worn by Officer Tensing showed that DuBose was initially stopped for not displaying a front license plate. During the stop, the officer can be heard asking for Dubose’s license. Dubose, a 43-year-old father of ten, says that he did not have it on him but tells the officer that he could run his name. The officer makes no attempt to do so, and begins to open the vehicle door. Then, in a flurry of events that occur in just seconds, DuBose tries to close his door and the officer shoots him in the head. There was no struggle or indication of any threat prior to the shooting.
In a press conference Wednesday announcing the murder indictment, Deters said, “It is an absolute tragedy that one would behave in this manner. It was senseless. It’s just horrible.” But without the body camera footage, Officer Tensing may never have been indicted at all.
I’ve represented dozens of families of unarmed people of color who have been killed by police officers. And if I had a dollar for every time the reason given by the police was “they reached for my weapon” or “they attacked me and I feared for my life,” I wouldn’t have enough room in my pockets. It is refreshing to see some prosecutors begin to stand up to implausible police narratives and stop allowing them to be the judges, juries and executioners of our citizens.
It should never be acceptable for a 12-year-old child to be gunned down by police while playing on a playground with a toy gun, as Tamir Rice was by Cleveland officers who subsequently blamed him for his own death. It should never be acceptable to kick and choke a handcuffed, shackled woman who is saying she can’t breathe, as Alesia Thomas was by Los Angeles police, or to charge the officer with assault instead of murder when the video clearly contradicts the officer’s report. It should never be acceptable to kill a person in broad daylight who is running away from you, as Antonio Zambrano Montes ran from Pasco, Washington, police, and subsequently state that you feared for you life in an attempt to justify the repulsive acts that were captured on cell phone video.
What happened to Samuel DuBose – like what we witnessed in North Charleston in April, when an officer blatantly lied in his report to justify his killing of Walter Scott – was not an anomaly but what occurs in many instances of police-involved deaths.
The growing movement to require police officers to wear body cameras is helping to finally challenge the police narrative. Had there not been a camera recording this incident, we can only imagine how the sequence of events would have been laid out by Tensing to suggest that he had to kill DuBose to protect his own life, and there may not have been an indictment. Just ponder all of the people, especially the countless minorities, who have alleged the police were lying and no one ever believed them when pitted against the stories police tell.
Attorney Benjamin Crump is President of the National Bar Association and represents the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Alesia Thomas, Tamir Rice, and Antonio Zambrano Montes.