What comes from tragic police shootings can be important lessons about policing and moving forward, NPR reports. In 2001, Cincinnati police officer Stephen Roach fatally shot Timothy Thomas, 19 and unarmed, in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, an inner city area then in deep decline. Thomas, with a record of minor traffic offenses, had a warrant out for his arrest. The days of rioting that followed are considered the largest urban unrest since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, after the acquittal of four police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King. Former Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken says, “The one thing we learned is that you cannot tell people that the case is under investigation and expect them to accept that as an answer over any length of time.” Luken says one of the first lessons is to get out information as quickly as possible.
Officer Roach was acquitted, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is considered trendy, and the police reforms that have been put in place, including a citizens review panel under the auspices of the Justice Department, are considered a model. Still, Luken says that elsewhere, there remains a disconnect between police and residents in poor or predominantly African-American neighborhoods. “There historically has been an adversarial, kind of tough-guy approach to dealing with some of these neighborhoods, but if you can get people to believe that the police are working to help them improve their neighborhood, that is the key.” There have been peaceful protests over police-involved deaths in Oakland, Ca. Last week, the same day that officials in Baltimore charged six police officers with felonies in the death of Freddie Gray, an angry nighttime crowd in Oakland vandalized businesses and cars.