Sunday, February 04, 2001

Racial profiling targeted

Black United Front says police must stop it

        As part of an effort to examine race relations in Cincinnati, the Enquirer Editorial Board invited members of the Black United Front to discuss their organization and its goals. BUF led the boycott of downtown restaurants to protest after some closed during the Ujima Festival last summer. BUF is now collecting evidence of racial profiling in preparation for a class-action lawsuit against Cincinnati Police. Following are questions and excerpts of answers from the meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

        Q. How do you define racial profiling?

        Rev. Damon Lynch: Very simply, it is when skin color becomes evidence for a propensity to commit a crime.”

        Q. What about the gray areas between legitimate criminal profiling and racial profiling?

        Rev. Lynch: We have no problem with legitimate police tactics. Racial profiling is not proper police tactics. We've heard over 300 stories in the past three weeks of people being inconvenienced or pulled over, without incident reports, or they may even be handcuffed.

        Douglas Springs: I was stopped. I had a '65 Rambler. I was coming through Avondale and they pulled me over. I asked why they stopped me and they said they got a call about a stolen Mercedes Benz. I said, “This is no Mercedes Benz.”

        Rev. Lynch: The problems are much broader than racial profiling. We see with different eyes. We have two streams of consciousness. We have a Eurocentric stream and an Afrocentric stream. We have to live in two worlds. Most white people are Eurocentric. Rarely are they the only white person in a room. They don't have to live in two worlds.

        America continues to divide by race.

        We look at Rodney King and go, “Ohhhh.” To the white community it's, “That's police work.”

        We look at (restaurant closings during) Ujima and say, “That's wrong.” And the white community says, “That's business.”

        It's not that either of us is bad, but we see the same picture with two different lenses. When will we ever be able to see through the same lens?

        Q. Your organization is relatively new. What's your constituency? Was there a void of leadership and results?

        Jim Clingman: We formed quite spontaneously, to discuss the restaurant closings. Nobody else was dealing with them, so the group decided to form and ask Damon if he would be president.

        Rev. Lynch: We are a group with a prophetic voice. That's a voice that people really don't want to hear. If they do wrong, they will be called to task. There have always been prophets, from Bible days, Mohammed, Martin Luther King.

        Some (groups) have lost their prophetic edge. So we take a stand and speak loud and we're not afraid to call into question those who lead Cincinnati. We formed to fight on issues of social, racial and economic injustice. These are issues we've taken up for the benefit of all the community. We must have police. We support them, but they must not kill innocent citizens. We fight that for all Cincinnatians.

        Q. What about the African-Americans who disagree with your approach?

Rev. Lynch: They don't have to agree with our approach, just look at the results. People certainly didn't agree with Dr. King, but they've taken advantage of the results.

        Dwight Patton: We have united various class elements with something in common, from professionals to grass-roots. That was not necessarily the case with other organizations.

        Mr. Springs: There's a lot of fear in the black community that if we organize, the government will organize against us. Look at history in Cincinnati. The police have always been against the black people.

        Q. In many controversial cases, black officers have been involved. What lens do they look through?

Mr. Springs: They look through a blue lens.

        Rev. Lynch: It's the victim who is profiled. A black officer can be just as guilty as a whhite officer. They have grown up in a police culture. It's a whole other world in itself.

        Put it in historical perspective. What about black slaves who whipped other black slaves?

        White people ask me, “Haven't things gotten better?” They have, and always will get bbetter. But then the white people want to believe there's no more descrimination, no more racism, no more racial profiling, that it's all just rosy. They wonder, “What's the matter with you black people?” That's how white America wants to look at everything, especially when it gets messy.

        Last summer it got messy in Cincinnati — and we got loud.

        Mr. Springs: There's a lot of pressure on black officers to do the police thing, not neccessarily the right thing.

        Mr. Patton: The FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) is very powerful in this city. (FOP President) Keith Fangman often energizes our community because he states such an absurd analysis of the situation with his defense of sometimes guilty officers. He's a very polarizing agent in this city.

        Q. What positive things has your group accomplished?

        Rev. Lynch: Our boycotting of downtown restaurants was extremely positive because it resulted in an apology for what we knew was insensitive treatment of our community.

        Our present class action lawsuit on racial profiling. And our presence as a new voice. People say, “Keep doing what you're doing.” I think we have brought the community closer together.

        Q. What solutions do you suggest?

Juleana Frierson: The reason for the lawsuit was that discussion hasn't resulted in any solutions. We want (profiling) to stop. We want to be respected like any other citizens, There needs to be some revamping of management in the police division. Their officers receive diversity training, but obviously that's insufficient. The racism issues I see here are far greater than anywhere else I've ever lived. The Cincinnati Police Division is lacking in interpersonal skills.

        Rev. Lynch: You have a situation here where the chief (Thomas Streicher Jr.) says profiling exists. (Assistant Chief) Ron Twitty says it exists. But at city council, we don't have a definition or an ordinance against it. The solution is that racial profiling ceases in this city, and that when it happens there are penalties for it.

        Q. What about black-on-black crime and the high incidence of crime by blacks? Shouldn't you be more outspoken about that?

Rev. Lynch: That's not an argument on racial profiling. That's another issue. Black-on-black anything — we work on that every day of our lives. It's a separate issue.

        Mr. Patton: Our youth are criminalized at an early age. Some are just as innocent as lambs, but when they're roughhoused by police at age 7 or 8, it has a very traumatic effect. If you treat a person like a criminal, along with poor education and media products that portray blacks as criminals, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        Ms. Frierson: Racism is a huge issue and we're trying to compartmentalize it and that's why we don't solve it. Racism is about systems, institutions, people in power maintaining that power. It all goes together.

        Q. What other solutions come to mind?

Rev. Lynch: Cincinnati needs some visionary leadership. We want to be cosmopolitan, but we're just a little southern town on the river. Atlanta says they're a city that's “too busy to hate.” We don't even have a motto. We need more discussions like this one.

        Mr. Clingman: If men and women of goodwill would stand up for right, this would be a better city. This is not just black and white. This is also about poor people in Price Hill. I think a lot of crime and other issues are because of poverty. There is a gross economic disparity in this city.

        Ms. Frierson: I want leaders to lead and managers to manage. Fire the officers that need to be fired, and fix the arbitration system.

        One overarching solution comes to mind: The war on drugs must be won. That affects the perception that police have that we're all criminals. The biggest problem is drugs in the community.

        Rev. Lynch: The (black) community has not always been this anti-officer. The sentiment has changed over time because the actions of officers have changed.

        The war on drugs must be fought by the black community. We need to be the front line. Police officers should be the second line in this fight.

        Give kids the training to earn a good living. We need to fight with after-school programs, and charter schools, and businesses that can hire young people.


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