Wednesday, March 21, 2001
A chance to solve and unify
Any time someone is willing to talk instead of fight, I'm willing to listen.
The promise of such a peaceful outcome should give Cincinnati's racial profiling lawsuit a full and fair hearing.
Instead of dividing this city, the legal action could become a force for unity.
But first, everyone must be heard.
The suit, filed a week ago today, offers a rare olive branch. In going to federal court against the city, black activists and their attorneys made an unusual proposal: Before both sides square off in court, before people are further polarized, let's sit down and talk.
Lots of people in high places are talking about racial profiling. On Monday, City Council discussed an ordinance requiring police to collect racial data during traffic stops. Ohio's House is hearing testimony this week on a similar measure.
The proposed solution to Cincinnati's racial-profiling suit sounds different and it is. David A. Harris studies such cases. In the 18 suits the University of Toledo law professor examined for his upcoming book, Profiles in Injustice, not one proposed a mediated settlement.
If this proposal works, he said, everyone wins.
In plain, non-legalese English, here's how the lawsuit's proposal would work:
Both sides agree to the process, sanctioned by the court and run by Jay Rothman, a Yellow Springs, Ohio-based mediator experienced in negotiating disputes in places - Northern Ireland and Israel - where people can't get along.
The city would split the cost of the mediation with a New York foundation, the Andrus Family Fund.
All parties - from city officials to cops on the beat, from community leaders to alleged victims of racial profiling - would be represented.
Ground rules and goals would be set; data collected and analyzed.
An agreement designed to track, manage and eventually eliminate racial profiling would be approved and signed by all parties. Promises would be kept. Everyone would be accountable.
The alternative, as Al Gerhardstein - one of the activists' attorneys - told me, is: War.
Sources say the mediation idea came from Mr. Gerhardstein, a Cleveland native who has practiced law in Cincinnati since 1976.
He shyly claimed credit when we spoke. It came from my 25 years experience on this issue.
The attorney quickly added that his idea was fully embraced by Ken Lawson, another lawyer on the case, and the client, the Cincinnati Black United Front.
The idea looks to me like a classic Cincinnati solution. This is a polite city. No confrontation, please. We're Cincinnatians.
Being polite in this case could pay huge dividends, said Jerry Lawson. No relation to Ken Lawson, he's a mediator and president of the nationally recognized and locally based Center for Resolution of Disputes.
While these settlements sometimes take years to achieve, they still are quicker, less expensive and easier on the people in the dispute than litigation.
This classic Cincinnati solution could become a national model for healing.
But first, all parties need to embrace the lawsuit's proposal and work on this mediated settlement in good faith. Only by adding a chapter on racial harmony can the Queen City help close the book on racial profiling.
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.
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