Thursday, December 11, 2003

Why didn't the cops just hypnotize him?

Peter Bronson

While I was in a bookstore in Arizona last week, a woman who used to live in Cincinnati told me, "That guy who fought with the police, his death has been ruled a homicide.''

What surprised me more than the news was the sudden feeling of sadness and disgust.

Sadness for our city. Disgust that everywhere we go, Cincinnatians are known by their apologetic posture. It's easier to shrug and shake our heads than to explain the convoluted context of the latest stupidity of the month.

When I got home, I learned the rest of the story: The homicide ruling doesn't mean the police did anything wrong. It's the kind of important little detail we never hear when newshounds are barking up the wrong tree.

From a distance, Cincinnati looks like a Dr. Seuss story about "The City of Disgracism, Where They're All Stuck on Racism." Or maybe it's "The Town of Berzerkles, Where They All Talk in Circles." This week, the Big Answer is $1 million for Star Trek stun guns called Tasers.

I say buy 'em. And while we're at it, let's hire some of those guys in white coats with nets. And how about tranquilizer dart guns and some big rubber mallets?

Not that any of that would have stopped 350-pound Nathaniel Jones when he stoked up on PCP and cocaine and attacked two cops before they could duck. But even rubber mallets might be more effective than millions spent on empty talk, court settlements, federal monitors and fuzzy "collaboratives."

When angel dust hits nerve endings and a fist hits a cop, there are no federal judges, monitors or citizen panels to talk it out. It's just the cops and a crazed suspect, "dialoguing" with fists, elbows and nightsticks.

Then when it's safe to come out, the collaborative crowd points fingers and tells us how it should have been done.

Instead of asking ludicrous questions about why the police didn't back off, or call a mental-health counselor, or hypnotize Jones like Mandrake the Magician, maybe we should ask: What the heck was Jones smoking?

"I hate this drug, PCP," said Dr. Curtis Snook, a specialist in emergency medicine and toxicology at University Medical Center. PCP "wets" or "firesticks," often dipped in embalming fluid to amplify the jolt, are more common in Cleveland than Cincinnati, he said. "It's very dangerous."

PCP can trigger violence, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, anxiety, psychosis and severe hypertension, said Dr. Earl Siegel of the Drug & Poison Information Center.

Snook said claims that Jones was a peaceful man, and his violent attack on police, may not be a contradiction. "PCP ties it all together. They may both be true."

At a New York hospital, Snook once saw a drugged-up patient strapped to a hospital bed get up and walk away - with the bed still tied to his back. "It's not an urban legend that users do superhuman things."

For Jones, with high blood pressure and a heart condition, PCP and cocaine caused a racing heart and soaring blood pressure. Symptoms "look like a heart attack," Snook said. "It would be a very dangerous situation."

Here's another dangerous situation: demanding more police reform when we need community reform.

But it's all too complicated to explain on a plane or in a bookstore. So buy the Tasers. We're going to need them.


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