Thursday, April 12, 2001

Ministers rally, then walk the streets


Meeting with chief erupts in angry words

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Police Chief Tom Streicher Wednesday asked Cincinnati clergy to talk to the community about keeping calm in the streets but he didn't quite get what he wanted.

        “We're begging for your help,” Chief Streicher said to a group of more than 50 clergy and church elders. “We certainly can't resolve this by ourselves. We know that.”

        The chief met with clergy and members of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission outside District 1 Headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End. The group then moved to the auditorium at Taft High School to plan strategy.

        Called together by commission director Cecil Thomas, the meeting started out with ministers and the chief talking about how groups could walk neighborhood streets and talk to young people about staying inside and away from the violence.

        But the meeting turned sour after 20 minutes, when an unidentified woman in the audience demanded to know why Mr. Thomas was defending the police chief.

        “Why is he standing up for the chief? He's here to answer to us,” she said.

        With that, about 10 people left the auditorium, including Rev. Aaron Greenlea, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, and two representatives from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

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        The Rev. Greenlea said he was frustrated that the meeting turned into a clash between ministers who wanted to quiz Chief Streicher and others who wanted to preach their own agendas.

        “You asked the clergy to come down here to help, but now there's a whole different agenda,” the Rev. Ronald Sherman of Faith Walk Baptist Church in Corryville said as he stood up to leave.

        The mood calmed as the Rev. Gerald Freeman of Morning Star Baptist Church in Walnut Hills shouted to the audience, “Who does the clergy work for? God? We do the work of God, not the Cincinnati Police Department.”

        The Rev. Freeman led the audience in prayer, getting the group ready to walk the streets and preach peace.

        “Rally your people God that we might do great work,” the Rev. Freeman said to shouts of “Jesus!” and “Amen.”

        Ministers and others then filed outside the high school and divided into groups at about the same time that hundreds of protesters were met by a Cincinnati police blockade at 13th and Vine streets.

        “Take a few moments, praise the Lord, and please move out,” an unidentified pastor shouted.

        Members of the AMOS Project - a group of 28 black and white church leaders that work together on social issues - joined with Gerald Haynes of Over-the-Rhine to walk up Elm Street.

        At the corner of Elm and 14th streets, the Rev. Mark Bomar of Morning Star Baptist stopped to talk with Antonio Campbell, 14, and Anthony Frakes, 14, sitting on a front stoop at 1405 Elm St.

        “We're asking people to step down so we can bring some peace to the situation,” Rev. Bomar said. “You all right with that?”

        Anthony and Antonio nodded yes and high-fived the pastor.

        “This is real good,” Antonio said. “We don't need all this violence out here. It's terrible.”

        The neighborhood walk is just what the city needed, said Rev. Ardie Brown Jr. of First Baptist Church in Hartwell.

        “The city needs a message of resurrection,” he said. “Easter Sunday is about resurrection and a new beginning. We need to shed old ideas and get new ones. We need to listen to the young people. And unless city leaders change their concept of what a great city is about, they're in for trouble.”

       



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