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Got Justice?

By Kathy Y. Wilson · April 11th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide
During the April 7 March for Justice, I wasn't in the number as a reporter or writer. I went to mend my splintered humanity.

I'm also not a member of New Prospect Baptist Church. I have disagreed publicly and privately with Black United Front leader and New Prospect's pastor, Rev. Damon Lynch III.

But I went there Sunday afternoon to walk with him and his congregants because I wanted to be in the presence of peace. We embraced before the march. Bygones went that way.

I'm not a joiner. But as we walked south on Elm Street to Fountain Square, I belonged to something. Uninhibited, I sang, clapped and connected with strangers.

I changed the words of "We Shall Overcome" from "someday" to "this day."

With Findlay Market at our backs, we cut a swath through the neighborhood that symbolizes every wrong thing and right thing about Cincinnati. I watched as the black men in our procession extended their hands and engaged the idle black men in the neighborhood. "Come join us, brother," the men said.

By the time we reached the Lazarus store, Lynch's demeanor, posture and gait changed. He went from singing, joking and laughing to a solemn, almost meditative state. His shoulders rounded, and his stride turned to a slow lope.

He was walking into a moment.

We walked onto the square, and the crowd parted a path. We squeezed in at the foot of the steps. An African drum ensemble drummed and, as if they'd rehearsed, perfectly picked up the rhythm of the call-and-response song we'd been singing along our route.

Some of the Jazz musicians onstage also picked it up, and we made a joyful noise. It was like the Freedom Singers, John Coltrane and several Art Blakeys were jamming together.

I was transformed.

I promised Timothy Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, that I'd be down front for her speech. I told her I'd send her love daggers.

As she sat in her chair waiting her turn to speak, she looked twisted. Her eyes were small, her face was anguished.

We locked gazes. I smiled and pointed to the message on my T-shirt. "Got Oxygen?" it says.

She mouthed the words and smiled quickly.

"Breathe," I said. "Breathe in and out." She did, and it calmed her a little, but the weight of the day, of Timothy's absence and of the past year pulled her shoulders down. She had a vacant, pained look on her face.

I wanted it over for her, ebullience be damned.

Leisure spoke about mandatory calm and peace. She told us she finds solace in the grace, mercy and faithfulness of God.

Her voice was steady, almost monotone, and she never looked up. I think if she had, she would've disintegrated.

As she read from her paper, I imagined the entire city was still and leaning in to hear.

The mass of people on Fountain Square heaved itself onto Vine Street, then Ninth Street, finally stopping in front of City Hall.

The organizational component of our quest for justice unraveled. We rallied a little more. And as we struggled to keep the energy high, it dawned on me that the people most in need of the humanity we dispensed were absent.

They know who they are, because they know how they felt wherever they were that day.

Some of the marchers then converged on District 1. Throughout, the police were uncharacteristically restrained. They were present, yet shadowy. They hovered like good overseers.

Finally, the most manic and resolute among us ended up on Republic Street.

On the street in front of the alcove where Timothy Thomas and Stephen Roach met and decided our fates, the Bucket Boyz turned what could have been a morose interlude into an old-fashioned, New Orleans style wake and funeral march. Members of the Human Relations Commission made sure we didn't block the intersection. That kept the police from engaging us.

The Bucket Boyz' dance corps, a ragtag group of young black girls, stood in formation.

"This is for Timothy Thomas," one said.

And in a way only black people can and are sometimes singularly able to understand, they danced and beat the Blues down. Beating their drums, dancing and chanting, they led a processional through the shrine to Thomas.

It felt like church, like an exorcism, like Mardi Gras, like the saints were marching in.

There wasn't any violence on April 7, 2002. The police weren't welcomed or regarded.

It was a fellowship of people traumatized by a year of violence, lies, misplaced accountability and hangers-on emerging from the ashes to forge careers from tragedy. We sang, yelled, screamed and danced.

Who knows if, from the heaps of paperwork of collaborative agreements or from behind the closed doors of covert meetings, justice will ever emerge in this city? Who knows?

Last Sunday, we laid our burdens down. And, in that way, justice was served.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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