Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Justice for Sam Dubose & Ray Tensing's T-Shirt

Ray Tensing (left) and victim Samuel Dubose
Donald Trump's latest stream-of- consciousness Tweet this morning suggesting that people should be jailed or loose their citizenship for burning the American flag offers a troubling glimpse of the president-elect's views on Constitutional protections.

Particularly given that the Supreme Court has firmly established that burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

So what's going to become of the growing nationwide calls for more police accountability for officers who use excessive and deadly force in situations where it's unjustified?

Considering that Trump's pick to head the EPA denies the existence of climate change, his pick to head the Dept. of Education supported a law to allow child labor, and his pick to head the Department of Justice opposes both voting rights and civil rights, it's fair to ask how the incoming administration and F.B.I. are going approach the slew of unjustified killings of unarmed innocent people of color by police in this country.

How will a Trump administration impact egregious police brutality cases on the local and state level?

For example, will justice ever be served for the senseless and violent death of Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati at the hands of an overzealous campus cop back in 2015?

After the first trial ended with a deadlocked jury earlier this month, earlier today a new judge, Hamilton County (Ohio) Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz, was assigned to the case.

Her first decision will be to rule on the prosecutor's request for a retrial in a new location.

Judge Leslie Ghiz replaces Judge
Megan Shanahan
According to an article posted on Cincinnati.com this afternoon, Ghiz is a non-nonsense Republican former Cincinnati City Councilwoman and assistant prosecutor who is respected by attorneys and has a reputation for handing down tough sentences.

As an assistant prosecutor she was known as being a friend of  law enforcement, but that's generally true for any prosecutor.

Will she grant the motion for Tensing's retrial?

Millions of people watched the video of former University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing shooting Samuel Dubose in the head at point blank range while the unarmed motorist was in the driver's seat of his vehicle with his hands raised over his head.

Last year I posted a blog on July 30th to try and make sense of the outrage I felt at seeing yet another unarmed man of color shot and killed by a law enforcement officer for no reason.

The facts of this flagrant case of excessive use of force remain as troubling as they were confusing when the incident happened last July 19th when Tensing stopped Dubose for not displaying a front license plate properly.

Based on the audio and images taken from Tensing's body-cam the two appeared to be having a relatively civil discussion over Dubose wearing his seatbelt when Tensing suddenly pulls out his gun, points it at Dubose's head and fires - killing him instantly.

Watch this three-minute edited version of the body-cam video of the moments leading up to the shooting for yourself - does it appear that Dubose is in any way even remotely acting aggressive towards Tensing?

And don't worry, the actual shooting portion is so shaky that it's too difficult to actually see the gunshot to the head - but you can hear it.

Ray Tensing shoots unarmed Sam Dubose in
the head while his hands are raised.
Video still frames (pictured left) definitively showed that Dubose was seated behind the wheel with his hands in the air when Tensing fired the shot.

Totally contradicting Tensing's initial bogus claim that Dubose was attempting to drive away and that Tensing was being dragged and was forced to shoot Dubose to save his life.

It's hard to see it in the video, but look at the image, both of Dubose's hands are in the air at the moment Tensing fires his gun.

Tensing's attempt to use the same ambiguous rationale so often used by members of law enforcement who shoot and kill unarmed people for no discernible reason, that he feared for his life, was not only contradicted by the video evidence, his motivation for shooting Dubose was also called into question based on a strange piece of evidence that wasn't revealed until the case went to court.

During the course of the trial, prosecutor Joe Deters revealed to the stunned courtroom that when Tensing followed, stopped and then shot and killed Dubose, he was wearing a t-shirt under his police uniform with an image of the Confederate battle flag on it and the words "Great Smoky Mountains".

Does the fact that Tensing was wearing a t-shirt with the image of a Confederate battle flag on it under his uniform during the unjustified shooting death of an unarmed African-American man pulled over for minor civil infraction serve as some kind of "smoking gun"?

T-shirt Tensing wore when he shot Samuel Dubose
Not in a court of law, no.

But it does call into question the issue of motive for the shooting; particularly given the fact that Tensing was a campus police officer.

Take a look at the t-shirt (pictured left), we live in a free country and campus police officers can certainly wear what they want to; regardless of what any of us think.

But members of law enforcement, be they campus police officers or real cops, must be held to a higher standard given that they are licensed to carry and use firearms.

Given that members of law enforcement are expected to perform their jobs with a degree of objectivity and fairness, does it seem right for an on-duty officer to wear a t-shirt with a Confederate battle flag on it?

What if the t-shirt had a swastika on it?

Or how do you think that same jury would have voted if Tensing was an African-American campus police officer and Dubose was an unarmed white motorist and it was shown that the officer was wearing a t-shirt with a Black Panther logo or an image of Malcom X on it?

Family & friends of Sam Dubose comfort one
another after his funeral last July. 
From my perspective Tensing certainly has a right to wear that t-shirt on his own time, but by wearing it on duty (even under the uniform), it clearly raises questions about his impartiality as a law enforcement officer.

Unfortunately for Dubose's family, friends and advocates of justice and human rights, a mistrial was recently declared after a jury in Ohio remained deadlocked on whether or not to find Tensing guilty of murder or manslaughter charges.

But prosecutor Joe Deters has been adamant about holding Tensing accountable, and I don't think anyone who watched the video of an unarmed Dubose being shot in the head at point blank rage while his hands were up after being pulled over for an improperly displayed license plate would agree that it's fair that Tensing's first trial ended in a hung jury.

Obviously many people are anxious to hear how Judge Leslie Ghiz rules on the motion for Tensing's retrial, perhaps Samuel Dubose has a better chance of receiving some measure of justice from a judge who runs a tighter courtroom.

According to the Cincinatti.com article, not long after she won her seat on the bench, Judge Ghiz said in a radio interview that she wanted to be known as the "Velvet Hammer"; - we'll see if she lives up her reputation for tough sentences.

For the sake of both justice and human rights, let's hope she does.

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