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Lessons From Cincinnati
By Heather Mac Donald
In April, when riots erupted in Cincinnati, most of the national media let out a glad cry: Black rage, the hottest of political commodities, was back!
"Riot ideology" — historian Fred Seigel's caustic phrase for the belief that black rioting is a justified answer to white racism — proved itself alive and well in Cincinnati. New York should pay close attention to what has transpired in Cincinnati, however, for the riots and their aftermath offer a peerless example of all that is wrong with the conventional approach to race — especially in police matters.
A fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Timothy Thomas, triggered the riots, but the violence hardly constituted a spontaneous outcry against injustice. A demagogic campaign against the police, of the kind New York is now quite familiar with, already had heated black residents to the boiling point.
"Thirteen black men!" — a tally of the suspects killed by the Cincinnati police since 1995 — was the rallying cry of protesters in the City Council chambers there last fall. Thomas' shooting (added to a January shootout death) brought the total to 15, and black politicians and activists — led by the Rev. Damon Lynch, Cincinnati's version of the Rev. Al Sharpton, duly updated their cry to "Fifteen black men."
By, in effect, charging that Cincinnati's cops were indiscriminately mowing down black citizens, Lynch and his fellow racial arsonists stirred up race hatred for the police and set the stage for the riots.
In fact, the list of the 15 police victims shows the depraved nature not of Cincinnati's cops, but of its criminals. Harvey Price, who heads the roster, axed his girlfriend's 15-year-old daughter to death in 1995, then held a SWAT team at bay for four hours with a steak knife, despite being maced and hit with a stun gun. When he lunged at an officer with the knife, the cop shot him. To call such a lowlife a martyr to police brutality is a stretch.
Besides the Thomas shooting, only three of the other 14 cases raise serious questions about officer misjudgment and excessive force. The notion that race was the controlling element in all 15 deaths is absurd, nor is there evidence to support the allegaton that Cincinnati police officers are racist or out of control.
Cincinnati's officers in 1999 had fewer fatal shootings per officer than the San Diego Police Department, constantly lauded as progressive by the liberal press. And 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.
Critics have accused Cincinnati cops of racial profiling, but a Cincinnati Enquirer study found no racial pattern in force incidents and that black and white drivers were ticketed proportionately to their representation in the city's population.
This hasn't stopped local leaders from scrambling to pander to black anger in the riot's wake.
The city's main response was to form Community Action Now, a three-man panel — one of whose co-chairs is Lynch — dedicated to "racial reconciliation" through what undoubtedly will be a massive increase in social service spending.
CAN's premise is that Cincinnati systematically discriminates against young black males — an absurd proposition in this well-meaning town whose corporations have long practiced affirmative action.
A tour of the city's poorest neighborhoods gives a better explanation of black unemployment: Young high-school dropouts and truants mill listlessly on nearly every corner, bereft of literacy or basic life skills, often peddling drugs. It is ludicrous to blame their joblessness on corporate racism rather than on their own unemployability, but Lynch and other newly anointed black "leaders" are calling for an international boycott against Cincinnati's "economic apartheid."
New York should take note: Surrendering to the riot ideology in Cincinnati has had its usual effect. Violent crime of all kinds has rocketed upward. Arrests for quality-of-life offenses, disorderly conduct and drug possession — the firewall against more serious crimes — have plummeted since the riots, as the police keep their heads down. None of this is surprising. Not only did the riot ideologists romanticize assaults and looting as a long-overdue blow for justice, but they demonized the police as hard-core racists.
There is an obvious lesson: The next time an urban riot hits, the best response is to do nothing. Compensate the property owners, then shut up. Scurrying around with anti-racism task forces and aid packages tells young kids that rioting is the way to get the world to notice you, that destruction is power — not staying in school, studying and accomplishing something lawful.
Even better, of course, would be to prevent the next riot before it happens by sending in police in force at the first sign of trouble. Most important, political and business leaders who have not already sold out to the civil rights monopolists should try to break their cartel. They should find black citizens who, unlike the Lynches and Sharptons of the world, are willing to speak about values and personal responsibility and who embody them in their own lives. They should appear with these citizens at public meetings and put them on task forces, if task forces they must have.
If they do it enough, the press will have to pay attention. And when the voice of hardworking black America becomes familiar, the riot ideology may finally lose its death grip on American politics.
Mac Donald, a contributing editor of City Journal, a John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of "The Burden of Bad Ideas"
©2001 New York Daily News
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