What really happened in Cincinnati?

Posted: Jul 30, 2001 12:00 AM
The City Journal is rapidly becoming the indispensable magazine in America today. It focuses on urban matters, but in doing so manages to cast light on the key questions that preoccupy public policy -- crime, race relations, family structure, entrepreneurship, education, the environment and religion. What distinguishes its writers is total candor and zero tolerance for twaddle. One writer with a particularly sensitive claptrap detector is Heather MacDonald. In the summer issue, she tells "The Truth About Cincinnati." MacDonald reminds us that the response to every urban riot in America seems to follow a script. First comes a limp condemnation of violence. Next, we find the hunt for "root causes." The graybeards then announce that the riot was a "wake-up call" to America about white racism and police brutality. Accordingly, commissions are established and public/private partnerships launched -- all with an eye toward increasing "economic opportunity" for blacks. The Cincinnati case followed the script to perfection. Every national news organization repeated the cry about "15 black men" supposedly shot by Cincinnati police for little or no reason since 1995. One of these was Harvey Price, who hacked a 15-year-old girl to death and then, wielding a steak knife, held police off for several hours. He was shot when he lunged at a cop with the knife. Another of the "15 men" was Jermaine Lowe, a parole violator wanted for armed robbery who fled in a stolen car when he saw police. He crashed the car into another vehicle and began firing at the police. He was shot and killed. Another was a 23-year-old with 18 felony charges and five convictions. He had just pistol-whipped, robbed and shot at three people in an apartment hallway, and then aimed his gun at police. You get the idea. As for Timothy Thomas, whose death touched off the riots, he was wanted on 14 counts. When police demanded that he stop, he led them on a long chase through the back alleys of one of Cincinnati's worst neighborhoods. Cornered, he reached for something in his waistband. A cop did not wait to determine whether it was gun. Do you blame him? MacDonald thinks Thomas' shooting was a tough case that might raise questions about excessive use of force. Well, if police tell you to stop, then stop. Only two other cases of the 15, according to MacDonald, even lead to questions of police misconduct. Four of the most recent shootings were by black officers. And a number of cops have been murdered during the past four years, as well. "In fact," writes MacDonald, "a Cincinnati cop is 27 times more likely to die at the hands of a black man than a black man is to die at the hands of the Cincinnati police." The liberal press is in a time warp. Each new outbreak of black violence is simply plugged into the "Kerner Commission" pigeonhole. Rioters are sending a signal, they insist. You know the mantra -- "two nations, separate and unequal," "white racism," "economic discrimination." But what all of these chin-pulling exercises overlook is that most of the rioters are criminals -- and, conversely, most blacks do not feel an overpowering desire to make off with microwave ovens, TVs, booze and furniture from local merchants whenever life throws them a curve.
Seventy-two percent (End Ital) of those indicted for riot-related crimes already had long criminal records. And what sort of signal would rioters have meant to convey when they torched an anti-poverty agency? One group offering financial assistance and job training to Cincinnati's poorest citizens lost $50,000 to fire and theft. Cincinnati has a number of black leaders who disdain rioters and believe in traditional modes of progress: hard work, committed families and personal morality. MacDonald interviewed several. But the press prefers angry blacks, because, as MacDonald puts it: "Liberal whites need black anger to prove the persistence of racism among their unenlightened neighbors, which they alone can atone for by the noblesse oblige of liberal paternalism. Thus, to reinforce their own sense of moral superiority, they confer racial authenticity only on blacks like Damon Lynch (a provocateur), self-proclaimed angry victims of American bigotry." So a crowd of criminals torches a neighborhood, and makes off with TVs and VCRs after another black criminal is shot by police, and like clockwork, the "national conversation" is all about white racism. When will it be OK to tell the truth?