An unarmed black man is shot and killed by a white police officer after a traffic stop. That would raise questions anytime, but in the current environment, getting answers to those questions is even more urgent.
But we’re not getting answers about what happened Sunday night, when a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed Sam Dubose following a traffic stop.
And urgency doesn’t seem to be a priority for the people who have the information.
The main question is basic: What happened?
All we know at this point is that Officer Ray Tensing stopped Dubose for a missing license plate. When the officer approached the driver’s side of the car, some sort of struggle occurred. Tensing was knocked to the ground, police said. It ended with Tensing fatally shooting Dubose in the head.
There are lots of questions. Why was the UC officer making a traffic stop a mile or so off campus? What was the struggle about? Most importantly, why did the officer use lethal force?
We do know a police video exists that could help answer some questions. But UC is not releasing it, saying that Prosecutor Joe Deters requested that it be kept under wraps for now. Deters says the video is part of an active investigation, and is not subject to be released.
Cincinnati Police Department says it has completed its investigation and turned it over to the prosecutor's office. Deters says he is “rapidly investigating,” and expects to have his review complete “by the end of next week.”
That could be 12 or more days since the shooting death occurred. That’s not soon enough. Not in this day of high tension between police and communities here and nationally, and the inflammatory impact of rumors and misinformation spread by social media and word of mouth.
UC, the police and the prosecutor should release the video at a news conference and answer what they know at this point.
A Wednesday afternoon news conference by Mayor John Cranley and UC president Santa Ono did nothing to answer the real questions. Both Cranley and Ono said they had not seen the video. The 20-minute news conference was actually cut short by a UC PR person in the middle of a reporter’s question.
The most either would say about the incident was this from Cranley: “A pullover related to a license plate should not, in the normal course of events, lead to a lethal use of force.”
“Reform is in order,” he said.
We’re not prematurely indicting the officer. We don’t know what happened. But in the absence of good information, that void will be filled by rumors, misperceptions and prejudice. The best way to stop that is by being fully transparent with the public.
UC, the police, City Hall and the prosecutor should immediately release the video in public, with a narrative of the facts as they know them now and be prepared to answer questions.
To sit on that information for days is inviting trouble.