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News: A Womanist Approach to Racial Harmony

Woman's City Club of Cincinnati devoted to improving police-community relations

By Jillian Black · June 23rd, 2004 · News
Active in the collaborative agreement are (L-R) Nancy Walters, Harriet L. Kaufman, Ruth Cronenberg and Madeline Moxley.
Active in the collaborative agreement are (L-R) Nancy Walters, Harriet L. Kaufman, Ruth Cronenberg and Madeline Moxley.

The goal of Cincinnati's collaborative agreement is a community founded upon "peace, safety, and mutual respect," according to Harriet Kaufman, chair of a Woman's City Club action group working to help implement it.

By placing their support behind the 2002 agreement between the city, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black United Front, these women hope to change the face and spirit of Cincinnati.

The collaborative agreement outlines a means for Cincinnati to overcome racial tensions by improving relations between the police and the community, facilitating understanding and respect.

"The collaborative agreement is this city's last, best hope," Kaufman says.

She says the agreement is "unbelievably creative" in its approach. About 3,500 citizens took part in designing the agreement, meeting in small groups to express their concerns and hopes for Cincinnati.

Kaufman worked with Ruth Cronenberg, former president of the Woman's City Club, to start the Collaborative Agreement Action Group in November 2002.

"I was grateful people believed in the same issues I do and were willing to do something about it" Kaufman says.

With the creation of the group, the Woman's City Club was taking a step in a new direction.

"We started three separate action groups while I was president and this one was very important to me," says Cronenberg, now treasurer of the club. "I'm just delighted with what has happened in the past two years"

�What each can do�
While the implementation of the collaborative agreement has been slow, the Collaborative Agreement Action Group has worked with the Citizens Complaint Authority (CCA) to provide a forum for community discussion and distributed pamphlets providing information about the CCA.

With the opening of the Community Police Partnering Center, a major focus of the collaborative agreement, there were opportunities to draw in support from groups such as the NAACP, Citizens for Civic Renewal and the League of Women Voters. The Partnering Center helps develop Community Problem Oriented Policing (CPOP), a law enforcement philosophy that focuses on neighborhood needs.

"Hope -- that's huge," Kaufman says. "That's what these programs are about"

Madeline Moxley is a member of the Collaborative Action Group.

"I was looking for a professional women's organization in the city that had substance, that was about focusing on being current and up to date, in step with what is going on in the city," she says. "(Neighborhoods) come together, and you almost start to see a person's soul"

Kaufman isn't disheartened by the slow progress of the collaborative agreement. She's pleased with the work that has been done at the Partnering Center and with CPOP.

"That's a very strange word, "progress,' because it feels like a drop in an ocean," she says. "But if you get enough drops, you can make a wave. My feeling is not to get caught up in numbers, but to do what each of us can, not to worry about how many programs you have"

The involvement of the Woman's City Club in this issue has raised its profile, sometimes in ways that have been difficult. Last year the club sponsored a lecture downtown by author Barbara Ehrenreich. Organizers of the civil rights boycott of the city convinced Ehrenreich to withdraw unless the program moved to another neighborhood. The club instead organized a panel discussion of the boycott at the Plum Street Chapel.

"It was hard to see how things would go, but we were pleased with the outcome," Cronenberg says.

�Forced to change�
The boycott shows the issue of racial conflict in Cincinnati extends beyond the collaborative agreement, according to Nancy Walters, new president of the Woman's City Club.

"It's such a complex issue, it's hard to do anything with it, because it's so big," she says.

While the boycott targets "economic apartheid," the collaborative agreement is focused on another issue.

"It's about community relations, not economic issues," Kaufman says.

The agreement settled a lawsuit accusing the Cincinnati Police Department of racial profiling. That allegation is one aspect of a larger mistrust between police and minorities, according to Kaufman.

"This is a pattern that we have not changed," she says. "This is not new. We have to change age-old patterns in Cincinnati because they are not new, they are systemic"

But the collaborative agreement is a good place to begin, she says.

"This is one way to start addressing it that has the protection of the courts, and lots of systems working at it to try to start pulling this beast apart," Kaufman says.

Cronenberg believes Cincinnati will benefit from the spotlight, forced to confront racial issues that other cities might continue to dodge.

"We're being forced to change," she says. "We are going to move forward. We are going to make a difference"

Club members see police-community relations as a women's issue.

"When I took office two years ago, one of my major platforms was that the voices of women need to be heard in this community," Cronenberg says. "I firmly believe that, if the voices of women were heard more in this community, things would start to change more rapidly"

Kaufman shares that view.

"Men have messed this up for so long," she says. "We need to make this a safe place for our families. We see this clearly as a women's issue"

"Women will be the answer for most of what's wrong," Moxley says. "It's a resurgence, if you will, of the feminist movement. The point is we need to stand up for what we believe is right"

"There's a lot we can do," Cronenberg says. "We can change things. I think we already have"

"Before the Collaborative Agreement Act, I remember people saying you can't legislate values," Kaufman says. "What I want to see is a change of heart. I know it sounds utopian, but that's what I want" �



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