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Stuck at 12th and Republic?

By Gregory Flannery · April 2nd, 2003 · Burning Questions
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"Who remembers?" That was the phrase on stickers that started appearing on utility poles in Cincinnati a year ago. April 2002 was the first anniversary of what most white people call "the riots" and what some activists call "the uprising" in Over-the-Rhine.

Monday is the second anniversary of the death of Timothy Thomas, the unarmed 19-year-old gunned down by police in an alcove near 12th and Republic streets. Thomas' death set off three days of angry protests and calls for reform.

Unlike last year, so far no large anniversary march is planned for the day of Thomas' death. Perhaps the quiet will allow his family, which had to share its grief with thousands of strangers, to remember their son in private.

But another anniversary is upon us, and it's cause for citywide grief. One year ago Mayor Charlie Luken, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Rev. Damon Lynch III of the Black United Front (BUF), signed an agreement promising substantive reforms in the Cincinnati Police Department. The three-way deal ended a lawsuit accusing police of racial profiling and codified a set of changes the Justice Department demanded in the police department's use of force.

Widely known as the "collaborative agreement," the deal so often boasted of by Luken and city council has featured little actual collaboration.

A year later, Luken hints that he'd like the city to get out of the deal altogether. Council is trying to push the BUF's attorney, Kenneth Lawson, out of the courtroom. Now the monitor appointed by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott is officially saying what honest observers already knew -- the city hasn't kept its part of the agreement.

This is no surprise. From the start, the city has chafed against the imposition of reform. Council refused to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees. Criticism by Luken and council led the first monitor to resign before he even started work.

After making happy during the signing last year, the city has vilified the BUF, saying its support for a civil rights boycott disqualifies it as a partner in the agreement.

"Two years after the death of Timothy Thomas, there has been much finger-pointing and self-congratulation among city officials -- remember that glowing public relations campaign begging you to return downtown? -- but no real change," says Denise McCoskey, spokeswoman for Cincinnati Progressive Action (CPA).

"Fundamental change" was what Luken called for in the wake of the uprising two years ago. But he and other city officials have instead blocked change, according to McCoskey.

"Cincinnati Progressive Action believes that the barriers to change have emerged in part from misrepresentation of the problems that face our city, a false understanding fashioned by city officials and perfectly tailored by the media, an understanding that remains so steadfastly one-sided and partial that nothing has been achieved, save maintenance of the status quo," she says.

Luken said lots of things two years ago. Remember his praise for Lynch? Luken appointed the pastor co-chair of a new -- now largely forgotten -- task force called Community Action Now.

"During the recent disturbances, Damon was on the front lines," Luken said in 2001. "He walked the streets and helped restore calm. He put himself at risk to do this, and I particularly want to thank him for this."

Luken's appreciation, like the city's commitment to change, vanished soon after. Within months, Luken fired him.

If the city won't reform its police department as it promised in court, won't negotiate with boycott leaders and forces the BUF's lawyer out of the reform process, what avenue for change is left?

The late Rev. Martin Luther King III once said, "Riots are the voice of the unheard."

Who remembers? Who is listening?

Is Cincinnati two years past a riot, or moving closer to another one?



BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.
 
 
 
 

 

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