Thursday, April 12, 2001

PULFER: Refusing to give up on the city

        I began to feel like such a dope, such a Pollyanna.

        Tuesday morning I roamed through downtown, mostly at the north edge around the public library, Central Parkway, Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. I'd heard about somebody — let's call him a guerrilla artist — who was leaving little gifts for those willing to look hard enough.

        Beautiful, delicate wire sculptures high in the branches of trees along the boulevard on Court Street. The hot dog cart in front of the courthouse was flanked by two silver flowers, about 7 feet off the ground. A copper heart here, a feather on a tiny spring there.

        A few hours later, there was broken glass on some of the streets I'd been walking.

Turning ugly
        What began as a peaceful demonstration, a protest against the recent police shooting of an unarmed black man, had turned ugly. Windows smashed. Looting.

        Mayor Charlie Luken called for public discussion. “If we can't do that, then I'm not optimistic that the future will be much better than the past.”

        We can do that. And we will. God knows we've talked it to death for years. But bricks thrown through shop windows are not a significant part of this public discourse.

        “These are people on the sidelines,” says Carrie Johnson, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council. “We're busting our butts to clean up our neighborhood. We're trying to reach out. This is disgusting.”

        Well put.

        “Don't use my son to escalate a lot of violent action,” Angela Leisure said on Lincoln Ware's WDBZ radio call-in show. She is the mother of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was shot and killed early Saturday by Cincinnati Police Officer Steven Roach.

Human pain
        “The knuckleheads,” as Councilwoman Alicia Reece calls them, people who would use this opportunity to break a window and steal a can of soda, are not the point. And we should not allow them to distract us.

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        John from Clifton leaves a voice message for me during the night: “To help heal this thing, white people from Clifton and Hyde Park and Anderson Township and Mason and Covington need to show that they care about the human pain.”

        He is not talking about the broken glass. He is not talking about the plastic chairs thrown to the Genius of Water. He is talking about the death of young black men at the hands of Cincinnati police. Not one, not two, not even half a dozen.


        “At this point, does anybody really have to ask why people are in the streets?” singer Kathy Wade says. “Something is obviously very wrong.”

        This summer, for the seventh year, she will bring her concert series, “The 'Hood is Bigger Than You Think,” to neighborhoods all over the city. The price of admission to these “free” concerts, Kathy likes to say, is that you have to get to know somebody who doesn't look like you.

        Ms. Reece says she's tired, sad and nearly talked out. “But I think a lot of smart, good-hearted people are working on this. And it's not a black problem or a white problem. It's everybody's problem. I'm hopeful.”

        Me too, Alicia.

        Does this make us naive? Relentlessly optimistic? Or maybe just willing to work to find the gifts that are buried here. To listen to the people who can shed light, rather than heat, people with heart and clout and imagination who aren't giving up.

       E-mail Laura at, or call 768-8393.


Violence worsens, spreads
Grand jury will probe shooting
NAACP's Mfume, city leaders meet today
Citizens terrorized by violence
Some business owners, residents felt targeted
Luken offers support to damaged areas
Ministers rally, then walk the streets
Panel's view: What should the city do next?
- PULFER: Refusing to give up on the city
Residents try to comprehend destruction
Violence a sign of unsolved problems
Arrests mostly of young males
Bengal Basnight wants to help stop violence
Reds urge end to violence
Parker: Problems have better solutions
Image worries downtown merchants
School activities address unrest