Sunday, January 28, 2001

Blacks share profiling stories

Testimonies have lawsuit potential

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This month, they came from throughout Cincinnati, representing all ages, income levels and backgrounds while sharing their experiences with racial profiling.

        About 300 African-Americans provided written and oral testimony to Cincinnati Black United Front (CBUF), an agency that is collecting the statements and handing them over to lawyer Kenneth L. Lawson for a potential class-action lawsuit to encompass several existing cases.

        Mr. Lawson has represented Cincinnati Police Officer David Hunter, one of five officers directly involved in the Nov. 7 arrest of Roger Owensby Jr., who died of mechanical asphyxiation soon after being taken into custody.

        Officer Hunter testified before a Hamilton County grand jury, which later indicted two of his fellow officers on assault charges stemming from the arrest. He retains his police powers but faces a review by the police chief.

        CBUF members began collecting testimony on Saturdays, at four different locations throughout the city, earlier this month. Another location was added last week. Saturday was the last session.

        An opportunity to express long-harbored pain, anger and frustration was vital to a community that has witnessed the Ku Klux Klan erecting a cross on Fountain Square and downtown restaurants closing during the 2000 Ujima festival, CBUF members said.

        “There really hasn't been (an opportunity) for people to tell their stories. It's grounds for an investigation. Whatever it takes, I'd like to see real change, real positive change,” said Iris Roley, the CBUF member who organized the information-gathering sessions.

        Racial profiling is an issue cropping up all over the nation. African -Americans say police are stopping them merely for their appearance.

        Cincinnati police officials have conceded that racial profiling has happened in the past, yet they have denied that there is a systemic problem within the division.

        The CBUF information-gathering sessions have elicited testimony from a wide range of African-Americans whose common story was that they were stopped merely because of their race, Ms. Roley said.

        They have talked of being pulled over, detained, handcuffed and even physically abused when they weren't breaking the law.

        For example, Edmond Rayford, 39, of Fairmount, shared his experience Saturday at New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine. He spent two years in jail after being convicted of aggravated assault. He said someone else deserved the rap and now, after a jail sentence, his truck-driving career is ruined.

        He appreciated the chance to share his story.

        “I have a lot at stake now. It's very important that people know that police lie,” he said.

       For information on joining CBUF, call 588-0303.


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