The "one" stands for Sam DuBose, the guy who died after a routine traffic stop related to a missing front plate went way out of control. The guy who was killed by a University of Cincinnati police officer who went unconvicted after two trials because two juries could not decide beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer committed murder.
The "61" stands for the number of Ohio cars missing front plates that I counted on a single, two-mile evening walk in Pleasant Ridge. (All I had to do was spot a missing front plate and then see if they were Ohio cars as they drove past.)
Amazingly, not one of these dangerous scofflaws got pulled over for their egregious violation of Ohio's most esteemed traffic safety laws. Not even the vehicles that directly and obviously passed by the Cincinnati police cruiser trolling along Montgomery Road. But near UC, just a few miles away from Pleasant Ridge, enforcing front plate laws apparently was high-priority work.
So think about that for a minute. Sam DuBose DIED because he got stopped for a thing that thousands and thousands and thousands of people in Cincinnati are doing every day, every time they drive their car. It really was, as Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters so eloquently stated, a "chicken-shit stop."
Maybe not 'murder,' but absolutely a tragic failure of sensible law enforcement. We need a better law to hold cops accountable.
In the swirl of facts specific to the case against UC officer Ray Tensing, if I sat on the jury, I probably also would have struggled to convict him on the extreme charge of "murder."
After all, I do believe that Tensing thought he was doing his job. I believe he probably thought so all the way up to the point where he failed to follow his training and stuck his arms inside that car. Then, in just a few seconds, things go sideways, adrenaline and fear kick in, a shot gets fired, and an unarmed man dies for no good reason.
As unjust and tragic as DuBose's death was, it also is just plain hard to call Tensing's act "murder."
Maybe Tensing WAS scared that he might have been hurt if the car took off. I wasn't inside his head. Neither was anyone else. I do doubt that Tensing got up that day planning to kill somebody.
And that's what murder means to me: a planned, intentional act. I can understand why it would be hard to convict a cop for "murder" in such a heat-of-the-moment conflict.
So yeah, I can see where the concept of the "benefit of the doubt" kicks in to explain why a jury would not convict Tensing, even if every single person on that jury, most of the universe, and maybe even Tensing himself, thought Sam DuBose should not have been shot.
So I see two glaring problems that prevented justice from being served in this case.
One is that Ohio's laws clearly do not account for situations like this. A "bad" police shooting -- which I believe this clearly was -- does not fit what most regular people accept as a definition of "murder."
Should Ray Tensing have been charged with a lesser crime? Maybe. But maybe those options were bad as well. Ohio and other states have versions of aggravated homicide for the road rager, the bar-fight escalation, the cheated-upon spouse, etc. But even those acts-of-passion laws seem not to match up with the scenario of a cop who might honestly "think" they are doing their job as trained, yet actually do not.
What Ohio needs is a new law, with real teeth, for punishing police officers who commit what society understands as professional malpractice. We're talking about actions that cross clear professional lines of conduct. We're talking about gross errors of judgment that cause unarmed people to die.
Killing civilians cannot be dismissed as "just" a mistake, as "just" a questionable judgement call that went bad.
Yet because we lack an on-point law for cases like this, too many police officers who should be criminally punished at some level end up not punished at all. Sure, they get fired. And sued. And yes, they might feel horribly guilty about their actions. They also suffer through sometimes-unfair media coverage, lots of over-the-top social media rage, and the undeniable misery of standing trial in public. That's not nothing.
But in the end, the accused-but-unconvicted cop gets to walk away from the ordeal—unlike the true victim, who is now and forever dead.
We need some sort of better law because police need to be pushed to stop the escalation that occurs on their side of tense encounters with the public. I don't know how to write such a law. But I think we need one.
All I know is that too many officers are pulling people over for minor things, hoping to catch a "bad guy" up to something worse. And that's where deadly trouble starts.
Meanwhile, Ohio's front plate law is stupid on its face. It needs to end. Make it Sam DuBose's legacy.
So here's point number two: no cop, ever, should be pulling anybody over for a front plate violation. Ever.
It isn't worth risking a cop's life. Ever. It isn't worth taking a civilian's life. Ever.
If states want to enforce silly front plate laws, then do it like a parking ticket. Send enforcement clerks down any street, through any shopping center parking lot, and let then write dozens and dozens of tickets a day. Once a few thousand people get stung by $100 tickets, watch how fast a whole bunch of missing front plates get attached.
So imagine that cash rolling in. Imagine that happening with zero risk of deadly confrontation. No scared cops. No scared drivers. No dead anybody. Just a ticket on a windshield.
But instead, too many cops use nit-pick laws like the front plate law...or the broken tail light law...or tinted window rules...or ticky-tacky failure to use turn signals when changing lanes rules...as excuses to pull little people over in the hopes of netting bigger fish.
And who gets caught? A parole violator. An illegal immigrant. A "wanted" person for any number of small-time offenses. But rarely the "real" criminals that we all want the police to chase.
Too many of these gotcha situations turn into dangerous chases and senseless gunfire. Too many of these situations involve white officers pulling over black motorists over nothing. Too many people end up dead. Over nothing.
Astonishingly few white motorists get killed this way. And that says something really awful.
So why not just take the entire front plate "thing" off the table? From this day forward, STOP pulling people over for such violations. Let the parking meter people do that grunt work. Hey Republicans, wanna privatize something? Privatize that job.
Car makers and car dealers 'own' a sliver of this, too
Here's another thought. Instead of chasing down individual front-plate violators one at a time, what if state troopers started raiding car dealers whenever they catch sports car buyers (and SUV drivers, and others) driving off the lot without front plates?
After all, if that vehicle had the installed holes for mounting a front plate, but didn't get one in Ohio, hasn't that dealer knowingly abetted the violation of state law? Why not cut off the head of the snake? Why not nail the car dealer for cutting corners?
On my recent evening walk, I was able to get pretty close looks at a bunch of those 61 cars with no front plates. Quite a number had a pair of visible, yet unused, holes on their front bumpers for screwing on a plate holder. Raise your hand if you think those drivers left the car lot (or the Ohio BMV office) with a front plate, but later took it off. Please.
However, some vehicles I saw did NOT have obvious spots for front plates.
Isn't that a crime committed by vehicle manufacturers? Are we going to pretend with straight faces that car makers do not KNOW that many states in the U.S. (one of the world's largest auto markets) require front plates? And yet manufacturers openly, officially sanction vehicle designs that fail to accommodate a front plate. Where's a state or federal regulator when you need one?
For that higher-level law breaking, I say states should bring fines and/or lawsuits against manufacturers who deliberately design cars and trucks that do not even bother to accommodate front license plates.
After all, if front plate laws matter so much that it's worth killing people to enforce them, then shouldn't car makers be held more accountable for providing the means to attach a front plate?
Or maybe there's another option
When serious, community-wide efforts to enforce front plate laws start occurring, then and only then will I agree that a police officer is "just doing his or her job" when pulling over front-plate violators.
Or...how about just getting rid of stupid front plate laws? That might work, too.