Several weeks ago, NPR ran a moving retrospective following the acquittal of the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile. The story features a St. Paul reporter who runs a podcast called “74 Seconds,” the amount of time between the traffic stop and bullets fired into Castile’s body. Listening to the report, which foregrounded the voices of ordinary citizens down at street level, I thought to myself, thank God for great reporting. Maybe our most urgent course of action in this era of government paralysis and back room intrigue is to keep pressing hard for government (and church) transparency, and vigorously lend our support to the free press.
Here in Cincinnati, it surprised almost nobody when the second trial of Ray Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer who killed Sam DuBose, ended once again in a mistrial. The laws as now written seem bent irredeemably in favor of “officer discretion” – so many layers of insulation between justice and the perceived threat to police of unarmed black citizens. Recall George Zimmerman: you don’t even have to be an officer of the state to pick a deadly fight and then “stand your ground.”
Some say a repeat of the Cincinnati riots of 2001 — provoked by one more in a string of repeated killings of unarmed black men by police — is a matter not of “if” but “when.” A strong coalition of community activists, churches, and yes, Cincinnati police leadership, are working hard to try to maintain the bridges and positive spirit of the “Collaborative Agreement” written in the wake of those riots. But like the infamous Brent Spence Bridge that spans the river between Ohio and Kentucky – declared functionally obsolete years ago – our community’s infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, is falling apart. As my older brother (a businessman) likes to say, if a bit tongue in cheek, “Hope is not a strategy.” On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the Tensing/DuBose verdict will yield little more than one great big shrug — at least among white suburbanites far removed the city. Just another black man in a crappy vehicle with a long rap sheet of petty offenses is dead. Who’s counting?
A few are. Our best local reporter at street level is Mark Curnutte. Though white, Mark has long been the public eyes and ears of the black community in Cincinnati (after a long stint on the Bengals beat). He has their trust. Mark has spoken several times in my undergraduate classes and I’ve seen how his reporting can change hearts. But the work has taken its toll on his. A person of faith, Mark might ask: When has laboring for justice not taken its toll on the human heart? Like no other person I’ve known, he soldiers on, talks to people, writes his stories, his commitment unwavering. I pray for 10% of his.
Mark was recently honored by his peers in the Society of Professional Journalists with three first-place awards for his outstanding reporting. One of his awards came for his powerful article last year – “These Are No Ordinary Times” – in advance of the national NAACP convention here in Cincinnati. I urge you to read it, and consider sending your thanks to the Cincinnati Enquirer for their commitment to great reporting down at street level.
Congratulations Mark, you are a Cincinnati treasure. Your passion, faith, and commitment to tell these human stories from the heart of our city inspires me.