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Ambling Toward Justice -- or Just Shuffling Along?

By Clayton C. Knight · June 13th, 2002 · Burning Questions
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Is it an agreement yet?

If you expected the June 6 hearing in U.S. District Court to end with a ruling settling the racial profiling lawsuit against the city, you were probably disappointed.

Instead of emerging from the courtroom into the dawn of an era of kinder, gentler policing on the streets of Cincinnati, the parties to the collaborative agreement found themselves trapped in the twilight of continued litigation.

Early in the hearing, Judge Susan Dlott attempted to steer testimony away from the potentially divisive issue of payment of plaintiffs' attorney fees.

"That is an issue for another day," she said.

At the end of the day -- and into the night: The hearing ended about 8 p.m. -- it was clear that what Dlott actually meant was, "We'll deal with that problem at another hearing."

So far Dlott has not set the date.

Without question, the hearing began in a thoroughly ecumenical spirit. It was, after all, a joint motion by all the parties for certification of the settlement. Praising the agreement as "unique" and "historic," witness after witness pledged unqualified support.

An all-star cast -- from community and religious leaders to experts on policing to the mayor -- testified in favor of certification.

When William Martin, representing the city, said, "It's going to be a slow march, a slow and tedious effort," his remark seemed to reflect determination rather than discouragement.

It's difficult to tell at what point the gloves came off. Perhaps it was during the testimony of the Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Black United Front (BUF). Martin's questioning appeared to lead so directly to the proscribed issue of fees that Dlott felt compelled to intervene.

Or maybe BUF attorney Kenneth Lawson created a less-than-collaborative climate. He insisting on cataloging for the record his disapproval of the city's method of soliciting applications for the position of agreement monitor.

In any event, the impulse to have the last word must have been difficult to resist.

Among those who did resist were Judge Dlott, who earned two rounds of applause for her enlightened approach; and Al Gerhardstein, Lawson's co-counsel, who declined more than one opportunity to take potshots at lawyers for the city and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Likewise, FOP attorney Steve Lazarus was an exemplar of restraint throughout the proceeding, as were Merrick Bobb and Roger Conner, expert witnesses who happened to be lawyers but recognized they were present as the former and not the latter.

Then there were those who didn't resist the impulse: Martin doggedly pursued lines of inquiry that, if they led anywhere at all, appeared to lead only to cul-de-sacs of distrust. Scott Greenwood, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly derailed the locomotive of good will by introducing videos of Cincinnati Police officers behaving badly. Police Chief Thomas Streicher unwaveringly asserted that his department would, if called upon, unilaterally implement the partnership plan.

This process has the potential to be the best our system of governance has to offer, resolving differences at the lowest level possible. In the case of "In re Cincinnati Policing," despite the fact that the city and its residents are waiting for the court's blessing, the solution is not judicial.

The solution resembles, as it should, Community Problem Oriented Policing (CPOP), the concept of problem solving that is the centerpiece of the agreement. Based on the idea that law enforcement might not always be the best approach to problems of crime and disorder, CPOP affirms the value of people talking to each other.

Chances are that's what people were hoping to hear June 6.

What they heard wasn't a free and open conversation, nearly two months after the collaborative agreement was finished and signed. Not yet.

As Judge Dlott adjourned the hearing, she quoted Conner, of the conflict intervention group Search for Common Ground: "Trust is the residue of experience."

Sometimes trust is also a prerequisite.

 
 
 
 

 

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