Man Down: Timothy Thomas
What the life of a man murdered twenty-one years ago can teach us about the world we live in today.
This is the problem with the United States: there’s no leadership. A leader would say, ‘Police brutality is an oxymoron. There are no brutal police. The minute you become brutal you’re no longer police.’ So, what, we’re not dealing with police. We’re dealing with a federally authorized gang.
The 15th man
Police are soldiers of the state.
The state has sought protection for one sector since the earliest days of law enforcement: to protect the lives and property of the wealthy.
Will we see a day when the police no longer kill with impunity?
Timothy Thomas was shot in the heart by Stephen Roach in the early morning hours of April 7, 2001. In six years, he was the 15th black man to be killed by Cincinnati police.
Following the murder of Timothy Thomas, Cincinnati police Sergeant Harry Roberts said:
We didn’t kill 15 black men. We killed 15 criminals who resisted arrest. They didn’t die because they were black. They died because they were criminals. There is nothing in the law that says police must protect citizens. The police, however, are licensed to use violence against them.
Calling a man with 14 traffic citations a “criminal” is pure classism.
Timothy Thomas was a 19 year old father of an infant when he was murdered. In the words of his brother Terry, he was “trying to do the right thing.” His family acknowledged that Thomas had done things to draw the police’s attention but nothing to warrant him losing his life.
Last April, Cincinnati came together in memory of Timothy Thomas.
They agreed with the rest of us have agreed on: There’s been not enough positive change in the past 20 years.
The state takes dissent seriously.
It deploys cops equipped for warfare against its civilians — making civilians enemies of the state as they confront an army.
There is a long history of protecting the classism and racism America stands for under the guise of “liberty.”
It’s part of a bigger yet-ceasing cycle of police violence and public dissent.
The class riot in Haymarket 1886 for workers’ rights.
Race riots in East St Louis 1917, Tulsa 1921, Harlem 1964, Watts 1965, and LA in 1992 taught that lesson before Cincinnati.
People keep demonstrating that they will not take any more police brutality — but police continue to beat and murder them.
Blue power doesn’t care about you
Cops are not around to protect you. A 2005 Supreme Court ruling confirmed that the police have no constitutional duty to protect anyone. It’s only after being arrested and in police custody that the police have the duty to protect an individual.
For a long time, it was the job of the police to stop crimes in progress.
They were personable. You could call upon the strong arm of the law to walk you home at night to make sure you got there safely.
Throughout the 20th Century, the role of law enforcement expanded to crime prevention. Now crime prevention is policing’s primary role.
There are six attributes of modern policing:
1. A single entity with jurisdiction in a city.
2. Continuity in procedure.
3. Specialized in police work. No other duties are performed, such as sanitation work or fire fighting.
4. 24-hour service.
5. Salaried personnel.
6. An orientation toward preventive rather than solely responsive policing.
Let us recall those pedestrian, eternal words of our most reckless leader.
“Those who threaten innocent life and property will be arrested, detained, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,”
— Donald Trump.
In the view of the cop who took Thomas’ life — Thomas was a wanted man fleeing arrest over fourteen warrants.
Stephen Roach chased Thomas with his gun out, arm fully extended, finger on the trigger — in violation of police training. When the two men intersected at an Over-The-Rhine alley, Roach pulled the trigger and shot Thomas in the heart.
The warrants on Thomas turned out to be for non-violent misdemeanors. All of them were related to traffic violations.
Most of the citations Thomas received were for things like not wearing a seatbelt and driving without a license.
Knights of the state: to protect and serve the rich
The working class — police relationship has not been pragmatic for the working class.
While they’re thought of as allies, perhaps because many police officers were once a part of the working class, the two institutions are at odds with one another. Police have a long history of harassing union members, the unemployed, and people of color with violent confrontation and incarceration.
They’re doing their job.
Police protect property.
Cops were never meant to serve and protect the people, but to keep them in check and oppress them when ordered to. They were created to serve the rich as guardians of their estates by controlling the working class — with a prominent biased towards waging violence at Blacks.
The Kerner report noted that civil unrest (the Watts, Newark, Harlem, and Detroit riots) began with arrests of Black people for non-violent offenses.
In the arrests that sparked these riots, police acted with violence towards Black males and then responded to the riots with oppression and deadly force.
465 arrests and one killed in Harlem
3,438 arrested and 34 killed in Watts
1,465 arrested and 26 killed in Newark
7,000 arrested and 43 killed in Detroit
In his 1960 essay, Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem, James Baldwin wrote:
The only way to Police a ghetto is to be oppressive. None of the police commissioners men, even with the best will in the world, have any way of understanding the lives led by the people they swagger about in twos and threes controlling. Their very presence is an insult, and it would be, even if they spent their entire day feeding gumdrops to children. They represent the force of the white world, and that world’s real intentions are, simply, for that world’s criminal profit and ease, to keep the black (sic) man corralled up here, in his place…
The state is on the side of the police. The government-law enforcement alliance not only doesn’t make us safer — it endangers us.
The police are authorized to use violence against citizens.
We are not allowed to respond violently to defend ourselves. Hitting a cop is an offense resulting in fines and jail time.
Florida, for instance, carries a minimum five-year sentence for offenders committing aggravated assault against a police officer.
This is strange when officers of the law regularly go unpunished after hitting, torturing, harassing, and killing citizens.
Esprit des corps
Police begin to distance themselves from the population by identifying as keepers of order. The adoption of uniforms enhanced their sense of pride in keeping order in society.
Although police were reputedly corrupt and inefficient in their earliest days, they gained support from the wealthy elite which paved the way for what they’ve become.
In their nascent years, the private sector began funding police organizations to purchase arms, munitions, buildings and started police pensions.
Dangers of being a cop
To be labeled a cop killer is a special kind of evil in the eyes of the law.
Cops have tough jobs. We’re told this all of the time. The danger of policing is often mentioned and widely exaggerated.
Logging is frequently ranked the most dangerous job in the United States.
Policing hovers around the 20th most dangerous job marker.
In 2021 policing ranked no. 18 with 13.4 fatalities in 100,000 workers.
To put this into perspective, greenskeepers ranked number 11 with 19.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers. These are people who mow golf courses.
Garbage collectors rank sixth with 33.1 fatalities out of 100,000 workers.
Loggers rank number second with 91.7 fatalities out of 100,000 workers.
The most dangerous job in America is fishing and hunting, which suffers 132.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers.
Violence caused by cops is much greater.
In 2020, 1,021 people were fatally shot by police officers.
In 2021, 995 people were fatally shot by cops.
Under the 1033 program, the Feds ship military equipment to police precincts around the country. Since Biden took office, 1033 program funding skyrocketed and millions more of dollars worth of equipment has been distributed to US precincts than was sent in the same period under Trump.
The outcome of protesting police brutality is more brutality and protests.
There is a recurring effort to make the police appear neutral in its disciplining of the classes. But police have always been against the working class.
Two years ago it was reported that public confidence in police reached an all time low. Watch, the image of officer friendly is coming back in an attempt to blindside us from the terror they cause. We’ll see it in community outreach.
Police have a long history of being anti-union, anti-worker, pro-property, pro-capitalist property and endeavors, there's no way to stop this unless we re-express our values.
Will the injustice lead to a world free of police brutality?
Police continue to be protected by the law because they protect the state and the status quo — but we may see the end of the license to kill cops currently exploit beyond necessary means to quell threat.
But neither of these things will matter when there is no end in sight to increase law enforcement power.
For the US policing system to be stripped of impunity for its violent and fatal action, law-enforcement would have to have no political or social agenda — but follow community-created guidelines to protect all people equally.
This would mean the United States would shift its system of valuation away from wealth, defense, and property management to prioritizing the quality of life of its citizens — thereby eroding the class structure that separates us so bitterly now.