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The Greatest Tragedy


April 16, 2000
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The Greatest Tragedy

Rookie struggles with tragedy of shooting a brother officerOn January 28, two Providence police officers re-sponded to "a man with a gun" call in a parking lot outside a local restaurant. Off-duty officer, Cornel Young, Jr. who was in the restaurant, ran to assist his colleagues. But because he had his gun drawn and the officers did not recognize him as a fellow-officer, they tragically shot and killed him. The responding officers are white. Cornel Young was the son of the highest ranking African-American on the Providence force. One of the Officers, Michael Solitro, decided to speak with reporters from The Providence Journal two weeks after the incident. According to reporters Zachary Malinowski, Jonathan Rockoff and Mike Stanton, Solitro was very emotional during the two-and-a-half hour interview, but he said he decided to talk to start the healing process. “It hurts. It hurts a lot,” the officer said. “I wish it were me laying in the ground right now. I really wish it was me. This isn’t happening. You see the city tearing apart over this. There are no winners here.” January 28th was Michael Solitro's eighth night on the job. On Friday, Jan. 14, Solitro was sworn into the Providence, RI police department. He started work on the 16th. He had dreamed of being a police officer for years, but less than two weeks after achieving his goal, he found himself involved in a tragedy. “Sometimes someone gets hurt. It’s part of the job. But you don’t expect something like this to happen. It’s not supposed to be this way.” Solitro said that he had never met Cornel Young, Jr. in his short time working in the department. No one knows for sure whether or not Young identified himself as a policeman before being shot – one witness claims to have heard Young do so, but 16 witnesses say they heard no such thing. What is certain is that Solitro and his partner never heard Young identify himself. Young was wearing a ski hat, a baseball cap and a coat at the time of the shooting and the officers did not recognize him. During the interview, Solitro said that a major priority as a police officer is to back each other up. "The most important thing at the end of your shift is the person you’re working with . . . and my partner thought that I was in Young’s line of fire." Although Solitro was not in uniform during the interview, he was carrying his police hat and he kept it right beside him. Inside the hat was a laminated prayer to St. Michael and a photograph of Sgt. Steven Shaw, the last Providence officer – before Young – to die in the line of duty. “I can’t believe this is happening,” he said, tears rolling down his face. “This is all a nightmare. But I have to face reality. The community has a right to know what I’m all about.” The incident has provoked strong feelings from every quarter. Jim Carnell, a Boston police officer and an official with the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association said he found the media coverage of the Providence tragedy very disturbing. "Many seemed eager to fan the flames of race," Carnell said. "One journalistic giant almost gleefully reported '. . . smoldering racial tensions and an outraged minority community.' "It appears as though, regardless of the facts, if the officers are classified as 'white' there is a presumption that race must be a factor," Carnell continued. The Boston officer believes such thinking among supposedly enlightened liberals is evidence of the very same racist ideology that many have so quickly sought to tag on to police officers. Carnell said the Providence shooting calls to mind the case of Michael Cox in Boston. "There were those in the media who were convinced that they were dealing with a racial incident because the names of the implicated officers “sounded Irish.” They were shocked to discover that Officer Ian Dailey was black and of Caribbean extraction, not Irish and from South Boston as they had presumed." But James L. Brown, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers had a different view. In a letter to the Boston Globe, he said people shouldn't be so quick to say race was not a factor in the tragic death of Cornel Young. "The 'blame the media response' is disturbing," he said. "The 'let's hide-our-heads-in-the-sand' approach to racial profiling is disturbing. As someone who met Major Young and his son, Cornel, I know these were police officers every department dreams of having among their ranks. Compassion, professionalism and devotion to duty are what they are about."




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