Monday, April 09, 2001

Her question for officer: 'Plain and simple. Why?'

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Her son shot dead on the streets of an inner-city neighborhood scarred by abandoned buildings and increasingly abandoned hopes — this Angela Leisure envisioned.


        Finally, when her fear of violence on the South Side of Chicago outweighed her fear of moving her five children to an unknown city, Mrs. Leisure relocated to Evanston in Cincinnati.

[photo] Angela Leisure of Golf Manor holds a photo of her son, Timothy Thomas.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        That was in 1997. She didn't know a soul.

        “I came here thinking it was a safer place, a better place for my children,” she said in a near-whisper Sunday, the day after her 19-year-old son, Timothy Thomas, was fatally shot behind an abandoned building at 13th and Republic streets in Over-the-Rhine.

        She never thought the fatal bullet would be a police officer's.

        Mr. Thomas, who police say was unarmed, fled and was shot once by Cincinnati police Officer Steve Roach, a four-year veteran who had been pursuing him for several minutes.

        Mr. Thomas had numerous warrants for his arrest, all for nonfelony offenses. He died at University Hospital.

        While investigators continued Sunday to try to determine what threat Officer Roach perceived early Saturday morning, Mr. Thomas' family planned for a funeral they can't afford.

        Mr. Thomas was 15 when he moved here, but he never attended public school. He received his GED at the Nativity Literacy Center in Price Hill and aspired to a career in electronics.

        Last week, he secured a job as a laborer through a temporary-employment agency, his mother said from her Golf Manor home.

        He was to start today.

        “To that officer,” she said, her words slowing, “I just have one question. Why? Plain and simple. Why?”

        Her calm, measured tone wasn't shared by some Over-the-Rhine residents.

        “People are angry ...” said Michael Thompson, 49, who lives on gritty Republic Street and was awakened by gunfire he figured was “black on black, happens all the time. Or just some kid shooting in the air.”

        At the scene Sunday, spray-painted outrage in red and black covered the brick retaining wall where Mr. Thomas was shot. Mourners left flowers. There was talk of anguish, and from some, retribution for what residents see as continuing police mistreatment of young African-American men. Officer Roach is white.

        Red flowers were left by a white man, woman and three children from Covington, who came by to express their sorrow and wound up getting hugs from a man they didn't know.

[photo] Jerome Manigan lights a candle at the makeshift memorial in Over-the-Rhine.
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        That man, Jerome Manigan of Avondale, didn't get the white family's names either, but he later said he didn't want their encounter to pass unnoticed.

        Mr. Manigan has a view from the middle of the continuing tensions between police and the African-American community.

        His brother, Arthur Manigan Jr., and his father, Arthur Sr., were the first African-American father and son to retire from the Cincinnati police force, in 1990 and about 1970, respectively. He recalled the sense of purpose and community value his father and brother felt about their careers.

        Sunday morning, Jerome Manigan went to Over-the-Rhine to light a candle for Mr. Thomas on Republic Street. The wind promptly blew it out. He lit it again.

        “While we're praying for Mr. Thomas and his family, we also must pray for the officer and his family,” said Mr. Manigan, 53, who teaches adult literacy in Cincinnati Public Schools. “We have to find ways to understand we're not separated by this thing called race, by color.

        “We'll get there,” he said as a police siren wailed in the distance, growing louder, then slowly fading.

        Of the four black men killed by Cincinnati police since November, three were shot and one died of asphyxiation.

        Mr. Manigan said African-American residents need to be held accountable, and to not flee police orders to stop, a view he knows will upset some Over-the-Rhine residents.

        But, he added, “We must figure out a way to help police to understand that African-American men cannot be arrested, tried, convicted and executed by the arresting police officer.”

        Two off-duty officers who were working security in Over-the-Rhine spotted Mr. Thomas and called in his location to on-duty officers, who pursued him.

        This wasn't the first time Mr. Thomas had fled police. The officers knew it. He knew it. And his mother knew it.

        Mr. Thomas had 14 warrants for misdemeanors and traffic violations. His most serious conviction, his mother said, was for receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor.

        “My son could have had a record a mile long,” Mrs. Leisure said, adding that she was startled by police treatment of young males in Evanston, and how repeated pat-downs made her son fearful of them.

        She moved to Golf Manor recently.

        Of her son's repeated failures to appear in court, Mrs. Leisure had no excuses.

        “It's not something we're proud of. He was going to court for a while, then he stopped,” she said. “Then Monique got pregnant. I don't think he made very wise decisions, but still, he was just 19 years old.”

        Mr. Thomas split time between two homes: his mother's and the home he shared in Over-the-Rhine with his girlfriend, Monique Wilcox, and their 3-month-old son.

        “All the other parents that have lost a child under any circumstance, I'd say, to know that I know how deep their pain is,” Mrs. Leisure said.

        “For all the ones who haven't, love your children,” she said, her voice again nearly a whisper. “And let them know it.”

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