Sunday, May 25, 1997
Why did the cops kill Lorenzo?

BY PETER BRONSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Collins
Lorenzo Collins
Doris Floyd pushed up her glasses to wipe the tears from her eyes. ''He was like my baby,'' she said. ''Sunday was just as bad as the day I buried him. It was Mother's Day.''

The son she buried was Lorenzo Collins, 25, who was chased down, cornered and shot to death by police on Feb. 23 as he stood in a vacant lot, holding a brick, wearing flimsy mental-patient pajamas.

Ms. Floyd says she had a bad feeling when she took the call every parent dreads. ''They called me at home and asked me to come to the hospital. I asked what was wrong, and they said I just had to get over there.''

Like every mother, she thinks she could have protected her son. ''The thing that keeps going through my head is, they knew my phone number. Why didn't they call me?'' she wondered. ''They had all that information at the hospital.''

I asked her what she would have done. ''I would have took the brick from him,'' she said. I believe she would have.

There's a lot she doesn't understand. ''The police never told me anything.'' Not a call. Not a visit to say, ''We're sorry, we're looking into it.'' Nothing.

And by the time I asked her what she knew about the shooting, exactly three months later, they still hadn't told her a thing. As we sat in the back room of her North Avondale beauty shop, Strands in Motion, I realized something disturbing: I had been told more than she had.

The police did a two-month investigation, and sent it to the county prosecutor to consider criminal charges. A decision is expected next week. Until then, details are sealed.

But there are leaks and off-the-record accounts that frame a blurry picture:

Lorenzo Collins was taken to University Hospital for ''evaluation'' after behaving strangely when he was questioned about shoplifting. His mother says he had problems with depression. ''Sometimes he would hear voices,'' she said, ''but he was never violent.''

While at the hospital, he called home four times, his mother said, telling his brother ''they were going to release him and he would be home.''

Instead, as he had before, he walked away. University and city police chased and cornered him a few blocks away. Lorenzo picked up a brick. He was maced as many as six times. And in less than two minutes, two officers fired, shooting him four times, through the leg, neck and groin. He died five days later.

Early reports had four police on the scene. But leaks now say 10 to 15 cops were there, and eight drew weapons.

''I don't see why they couldn't wrestle him down,'' his mother said.

I don't either. Yes, a brick can be a deadly weapon. In cases like this, anyone who has not stood in a cop's beat-walking shoes, face-to-face with a violent fugitive, has no business second-guessing.

But four cops. Ten cops. Fifteen cops. One scared guy with a brick. Picture it.

''This situation appears to be as blatant a misuse of force as anyone of us can recall in Cincinnati,'' said Sam Moore of the Urban League. Along with other African American community leaders, he says the shooting is not going to go away. ''The whole community should be outraged - not just the black community.''

He's right. Lorenzo Collins was a mental patient. And he was black. And that changes everything.

Mr. Moore and others link this shooting to what they call a pattern of police beatings and shootings of black suspects and mentally-ill suspects.

One source who knows details of the police investigation wondered if the cops avoided using their night sticks because they feared another Rodney King rerun.

NAACP President Milton Hinton wants the FBI to get involved so that ''for once we can have a fair, impartial investigation.''

Many whites have rushed to form a wall of denial around the police.

A lot of people who should know better stopped caring about Lorenzo Collins as soon as they learned he was a black man.

And I wonder: How can our city and police treat a grieving mother as if she doesn't exist - not even bothering to offer an apology for shooting her son? Would the city be so cold if she lived in Hyde Park or Indian Hill? Not a chance.

What kind of city doesn't even bother to ask questions like that?

Lorenzo's mother didn't want to make an issue of race. ''It speaks for itself,'' she said. Yes, it does - to anyone who listens.

''I never had a problem with the police,'' she said. ''I always respected them and still do. I hope the officers that shot Lorenzo keep me in their prayers the way I keep them in mine.''

Her grief is on display every day in her beauty shop, where customers and strangers stop by to open the wound. Lorenzo's birthday was Thursday.

''I have faith,'' she said. ''That's what keeps me going. The Lord called on Lorenzo. God used him so we will finally do something about it.''

I hope she's right.

BORGMAN CARTOON

Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. Call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

BRONSON ARCHIVE

Previous stories

PUSH FOR POLICE REVIEW FEARED May 9, 1997
FBI TO REVIEW COLLINS CASE May 8, 1997
MARCHERS VOW SEASON OF DISRUPTIONS May 5, 1997
PROSECUTORS GET REPORT ON FATAL SHOOTING April 29, 1997
SHOOTING PROTESTERS ALLEGE POLICE BRUTALITY April 17, 1997
DEMONSTRATORS CITE SHOOTING OF MENTAL PATIENT March 24, 1997
BAPTIST MINISTERS PROTEST AGAINST POLICE March 20, 1997
LAWSUIT SEEKS $5 MILLION March 13, 1997
PUNISH POLICE, MARCHERS URGE March 5, 1997
FATAL SHOOTING CONCERNS COMMUNITY March 2, 1997
PROBE: POLICE FIRED FOUR SHOTS AT MAN WITH BRICK Feb. 25, 1997
MAN SHOT BY POLICE AFTER CHASE Feb. 24, 1997