and Vincent Muhammad

The family of Nathaniel Jones releases doves at the close of his funeral services. Photo: Vincent Muhammad (Inset, left) A scene from the video footage of the beating captured by a video camera in a police car.

CINCINNATI ( – After the deaths of 19 Black men in police custody, a two-year economic boycott, Justice Department and FBI investigation, a racial profiling lawsuit and racial tensions that produced riots in 2001, Mayor Charlie Luken has decided to buy stun guns for the police force to avoid the death of another Black man in police custody.

“I am looking for any avenue to avoid another struggle,” he wrote in an email to City Council members that asked them to find $1 million in the 2004 budget to pay for the non-lethal weapons.

The purchase for 1,000 guns to equip the city’s 1,050 police department was recommended in 1997 after the death of another Black man by police, but the purchase was delayed while the city sought federal funding.


“While it is unclear whether the incident would have changed if our officers had the latest technology in tasers, I believe we must equip our police with the very best equipment,” Mayor Luken said.

This drastic move comes as the city operates under the microscope of the world that watched repeatedly on the news how the Cincinnati police beat 41-year-old Nathaniel Jones to death in a restaurant parking lot November 30.

A call for help leads to death

At 350 pounds, Nathaniel Jones–called “Skip” by family and friends because of his love for peanut butter–was considered a gentle giant.

Early November 30, Mr. Jones was at a White Castle Restaurant. A patron was in need of medical assistance and the store called 911. The fire department medical crew arrived at the scene and later called police when Mr. Jones appeared agitated.

The police arrived and, for reasons unclear, entered into a violent struggle with Mr. Jones. The police car video camera captured the incident, but 97 seconds is missing right before the video shows Nathaniel Jones fighting with the officers.

“Mr. Jones was not in a hostile mood,” explained the family’s lawyer, Kenneth Lawson, to reporters. “He didn’t attack any customers or workers in White Castle. We see him dancing and stretching. What happened between the time we see him in the White Castle and the time the police arrived? What was done to provoke him to become that angry in such a short period of time? These are questions that must be answered.”

The Cincinnati Fire Department is also under heavy scrutiny because the tape shows two firemen at the scene watching the violent exchange and then leaving the area, only to be called back by police several minutes later.

The video, reminiscent of the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police in 1991, shows the police violently hitting and jabbing Mr. Jones more than 40 times. Also heard on the tape Mr. Jones crying out for his mother as he is being hit.

Minister James Muhammad, the local representative of Nation of Islam Muhammad’s Mosque No. 5, sits on the advisory board of the Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement which was established to monitor police injustice after the 2001 death of Timothy Thomas at the hands of local cops.

He said, “After viewing the tape, I was very concerned because one minute and 37 seconds of the tape was missing. We were concerned with what provoked the young man to begin to fight with police. The Honorable Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are totally against police brutality and we stand on the side of justice and fair dealing. There are a lot of questions about the death of our brother.”

The American Civil Liberties Union Advisory Panel to the Cincinnati Collaborative say they have carefully reviewed the police video and audio tapes regarding the death of Mr. Jones and have the following questions:

Why did the police officers need to engage Mr. Jones before a Mental Health Response Team officer responded?

Why did the Cincinnati Fire Department leave the scene before Mr. Jones was restrained?

Why were over 40 blows used on Mr. Jones?

Why did the police officers stand at the side of Mr. Jones for more than three minutes without administering any CPR or other first aid?

In an interview with, Lt. Kurt Byrd of the Cincinnati Police Department acknowledged that the confrontation between Mr. Jones and the officers did not begin with the widely broadcast images of a burly Black man swinging wildly and lunging at police.

Lt. Byrd explained that Mr. Jones became aggressive after police officers sprayed him with mace. The police officers had a “short conversation” with Mr. Jones who, in turn, “mumbled derogatory remarks” and began moving slowly toward the officers, according to Lt. Byrd.

The officers then sprayed the chemical agent at Mr. Jones as they told him to back up, he explained. When asked whether the police had asked Mr. Jones to stand down before spraying the mace, Lt. Byrd said they “maced him at the same time.”

Community uproar

The last time a Black man was killed in Cincinnati, the city rioted for three days. The city wanted to avoid a new uprising, so they immediately released the police tapes to show that they had nothing to hide. After the tapes were released, the police were quick to justify the way they handled the case.

“These officers used extreme restraint when they fought with this man. There are no blows to the head. There are no blows that extended into internal organs. They did what they are trained to do,” said Roger Webster, president of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police. “For those out there that say we’re trying to hide something, we’re trying to cover up something, I say ‘bull.'”

Those comments disturbed many in the Black community who want a full investigation into the matter.

“Cincinnati has a lot of work to do. We’re going to have to work very hard to reconcile our community and that’s going to be done only through truth. Without truth, it’s going to be very difficult to get to reconciliation,” said Christopher Smitherman, a newly-elected Black council member.

“I’m very concerned about, specifically, the comments of the Fraternal Order of Police and how they just seem not to understand that it is important to stick to the process and understand that justice is for all of us. I will continue to remind them they are servants of the city.”

Hamilton County Coroner Carl L. Parrott released his findings December 3 and ruled that Mr. Jones’ death was a homicide. He concluded that, even though Mr. Jones was overweight, high on drugs and beset by high blood pressure, he’d still be alive if not for the beating by the police.

“Absent the struggle, Mr. Jones would not have died at that moment in time, and the struggle there is the primary cause of death,” the coroner said at a news conference. 

In response to community concerns, the city held a town hall meeting on December 3. Hundreds of troubled citizens packed into the Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship Church to hear city officials and view on big screen the infamous police tape that has been shown across the country. Citizens also had a chance to view a tape from another police cruiser and one of the White Castle surveillance tapes. Many in attendance watched in disgust and the meeting raised more questions than it answered.

“Black people in Cincinnati must be wondering, ‘how many have to die before we can unite? The power is not altogether in the hands of the officials of the city. They may never acknowledge our right to a free and safe and productive life. To them, they may always feel like they have the right to treat us with deadly force in what should be routine situations,” said Minister Jamil Muhammad, a native of Cincinnati and national spokesman for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

“The decision is not theirs; the decision is ours. When will we unite? When will we put together a united black front with some backbone to it?” he asked.

When the city erupted in riots in 2001, Min. Farrakhan sent him to the city to offer guidance to the angry residents and local leadership.

He went on to say, “If we, as Black leadership and the Black community, do not unite, our disunity will be the playground of the satanic forces which seek to enforce a reign of terror in Cincinnati. Min. Farrakhan is asking to heed the call that we have only one another to turn to.”

They must go

Black community groups are calling for the removal of Mayor Luken and the firing of Police Chief Thomas Streicher, charging that the police actions against Mr. Jones are inexcusable. After the death of Lorenzo Collins in 1997–a Black mental health patient who was shot and killed by Cincinnati police when he picked up a brick–citizens demanded the police use rubber bullets, non-lethal beanbag shotguns, tasers, net guns and video cameras.

“What we discovered in the Jones incident is that there was no taser in the police car, nor were the other agreed-upon measures available. The problem here is that the city does not have the will to change,” explained Nathaniel Livingston, co-chair of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, an organization established in 2001 to address the rising deaths of Black men in police custody. Chief Streicher explained that tasers aren’t used because he found them too ineffective and unreliable.

Local activist and community leader Rev. Damon Lynch III is also calling for their removal. Speaking at a Dec. 7 rally, Rev. Lynch explained the police department rationale for their actions, “We didn’t apprehend him, we didn’t arrest him. We beat him ‘til the man died,” he said. “They call that policy; they call that practice; they call that procedure. We beat him ‘til he stopped breathing–bottom line. You can add to the front-end all you want. He danced, he was happy, he was high and he swung on the officer–and so we beat him ‘til he stopped breathing. That’s the part that they need to be held accountable for.”  

Speaking at a Dec. 7 rally outside of police headquarters, the head of the New Black Panther Party, Malik Zulu Shabazz said, “We charge the police chief with running a criminal organization that has the blood of 19 black men on its hands. We, as a jury, have already determined our finding.”

“Guilty!” yelled many of the protesters in attendance.

A call for peace

Over 600 people, including family, friends and others touched by the death of Nathaniel Jones, came to pay their last respects on December 6 at the Allen Temple Worship Center.  

“We miss our nephew. It’s not about the riots but an injustice that has been done. This whole thing started with a 911 call for help and now my nephew is dead,” said his aunt, Diane Payton.  

Min. James Muhammad delivered a special message to the city from Min. Farrakhan. “On behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and all the believers of the Nation of Islam, we share your pain. Anything that we, in the Nation of Islam, can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask. Your pain is not your pain alone. You are our brothers and sisters and he was our brother.”  

After the funeral, Mr. Jones’ grandmother, Bessie Jones, with two of her great-grandchildren at her side, led everyone to the parking lot to say a final prayer. She released several white doves from two wicker baskets, which symbolized that her grandson was now “free from the cares and worries of life.”