Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Brother's whispers resound amid madness

        While grown-ups shouted, a teen-ager prayed.

        Sixteen-year-old Terry Thomas bowed his head amid Monday's chaos at City Hall, an event that set off two days of protest downtown.

        The City Hall protesters were vehemently voicing their dismay over the death of his brother, Timothy Thomas. The unarmed 19-year-old man with 14 outstanding warrants was shot to death early Saturday by Officer Steve Roach following a foot chase by police.

        As so-called mature adults bellowed at one another, Terry sat in a deserted rear corner of council chambers.

        With the noise becoming unbearable, the Withrow High School sophomore closed his eyes and put his head on his folded hands.

        Moments later, he lifted his eyes and spoke with me.

        He sounded like a much-needed voice of reason.

Terry Thomas holds his mother's hand at Monday's council meeting.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Calmer than his elders. Wiser than learned public officials. He was trying to make sense of this turmoil while his heart weighed heavy with grief.

        “All we want are some answers,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

        “They're just telling us a lot of nothing. Why can't these people just talk?”

        Before him, confusion reigned.

        Protesters chanted and carried signs. Some council members called for order and were ignored. Councilwoman Alicia Reece called for all of her colleagues to be present and was cheered.

        Attorney Ken Lawson, a member of the legal team suing the city over alleged racial profiling by police, was on hand, advancing his cause by trying his case in the court of public opinion. The Rev. Damon Lynch III threatened to bar the doors.

        “This is unreal,” Terry said as insults ricocheted about the room.

        “I almost expect my brother to come through the door and wonder what the shouting is about.”

Last time

        Terry saw his brother the day before he died.

        “We hung out off and on Friday,” he said.

        “We talked about his baby, about the entire family getting together, about starting a business together.

        “Now that's never going to happen.”

        The Thomas brothers parted forever at 8 p.m. Friday. By 2:30 a.m. Saturday, Timothy was dead.

        “I said, "Holler at you later,'” Terry recalled.

        “That's the last thing I said to him.

        “If I had known what was going to happen, I would have said, "Don't run.'”

        He adjusted the ball cap he had backward on his head and continued.

        “He shouldn't have run from the police. But he did. He was wanted. He knew it.

        “He ran because he didn't want to be separated from his baby son. That little boy was everything to him. He's 3 months old. Now, he'll never know his daddy.”

He owes a debt

        Once more, Terry Thomas lowered his head in his hands. Speaking with eyes closed, he said:

        “Tim was my big brother. He's almost three years older.

        “We grew up together, played, fought and ate together. He was funny.

        “He looked out for me. He did that for 16 years. Now, I feel lost.”

        Opening his eyes, he spoke with a steady resolve. He owes a debt to his brother. It must be repaid.

        “I know what I have to do,” Terry said.

        “Now, it's my turn to be a big brother to his little son.”

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


Map: Where violence occured
Photo gallery
Main report on Tuesday's violence
Initial findings may not support officer's actions
Council locked up in City Hall
Blacks, whites vent on radio
- Brother's whispers resound amid madness
Rioting not the way, leaders say
Police try to go by the 'book'
Public Safety Department may be abolished
Racial strife not new to city
Donations for Thomas family