Thursday, May 17, 2001

Shooting burns questions in brain

Details of incident bring sense of relief

        A choke hold of anxiety grips Cincinnati. A police officer fires a weapon and triggers fears of uncertainty.

        Anxious questions were raised again Wednesday. Cincinnati police officer Matt Martin shot Antoine Williams in the groin. The shooting of the man armed with a knife took place near Reading and Dorchester at the base of Mount Auburn.

        Before I knew any of the facts, a little voice inside my head started asking worried questions.

        I was not alone.

        Similar questions went through the minds of the Rev. Steven Wheeler, whose nephew lost his life in January after shooting at police, and Keith Fangman, Fraternal Order of Police president.

        Was the man armed?

        Was he black?

        What about the officer, black or white?

        Is the wounded man alive or dead?

        Was the cop hurt?

        Was this the act of some stupid teen-ager?

        Did the officer follow procedures?

        Is this going to trigger another round of riots, protests, unrests, looting?

        The Rev. Mr. Wheeler is an African-American preacher from the West End. He took to the streets to ease tensions during the April riots. When he heard Wednesday's news, he immediately asked himself:

        “Are we going to go through all of this again? Will there be more riots?”

        He admitted he was afraid. “Violence could repeat. If it does, the desire of the African-American community for adequate service from the police will get lost in the unrest.”

        When he learned that Antoine Williams had a knife and his wounds were not fatal, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler said a prayer.

        “I thanked the Lord that he wasn't dead. That the officer wasn't hurt and he didn't shoot two or three times. That the officer's training kicked in and he didn't shoot to kill.

        “That way, the wounded man can get the help he needs, go to trial and, if he must, go to jail.

        “And the city won't be bogged down by another 1,001 inquiries.”

        Keith Fangman learned of the shooting from a cell-phone call he took just after landing at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. He had just returned from ceremonies in Washington, D.C., at the National Police Memorial. During the ceremonies, Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Crayon's name was unveiled on the memorial's wall along with other officers killed in the line of duty during 2000.

        News of Wednesday's shooting caused the FOP president to ask anxiously: “Is the officer dead or injured?”

        He noted that every shooting increases the anxiety level of the officers he serves with and represents.

        “Cincinnati police officers are afraid to do their jobs in this city,” he said. “They are afraid to initiate a foot pursuit of a drug suspect. They are afraid to try to go after DUI suspects because a high-speed chase may ensue.

        “They're afraid they may be indicted, afraid of losing their job, afraid of losing their freedom.”

        Their fears, he said, stem from City Hall.

        “No matter what they do, officers realize they lack any support from most of the men and women on City Council.

        “No wonder Cincinnati police officers are afraid.

        “They're all alone out there.”

        They're not alone on one count. Everyone's wondering:

        When will Cincinnati break free from this choke hold of anxiety?

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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