Thursday, April 12, 2001

Residents try to comprehend destruction

Violence evokes images of L.A. or Gaza Strip

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Choppers flew overhead, sirens wailed and fires flickered in the distance. Observing his city from an overlook in Clifton on Tuesday night, Shawn Wiegand thought: “This isn't Cincinnati. This can't be happening here.”

        He said he felt as if he had landed in the Gaza Strip.

        On Wednesday, he was still amazed.

        “Wasn't this, like, the most liveable city a couple years ago?” mused Mr. Wiegand as he sat on Fountain Square, taking a break from his job at Firstar Bank.

        “If this is a prelude to the rest of the summer,” warned co-worker Joe Hurt, “we're in for a bad one.”

        Across Cincinnati Wednesday, shocked residents and businesspeople woke up to the surreal images of a Queen City in crisis.

        Police in riot gear downtown. Windows smashed. Stores looted. A mayor who “looked like he was about ready to break,” as Mr. Wiegand put it.

        What a moment to be searching for a new city slogan. Last week's suggestion was, “Let the Spirit Move You.” This week's might be, “Please Excuse our Shattered Glass.”

        The destruction caught many by surprise.

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        Taxi driver Dave Drake, for instance, picked up a fare at the Hyatt Regency on Tuesday afternoon and ran into trouble one block away.

        A car packed with “hoodlums,” Mr. Drake said, nearly ran into a van. The occupants then got out and started harassing the driver.

        Mr. Drake's fare, a Chicago woman headed to the airport, was scared “half to death,” he recalled.

        “Can you get me out of here?” she pleaded.

        He locked the doors and peeled away.

        All was calm Wednesday at Sixth and Vine streets, but Charlie Walker had a constant reminder of the previous days' havoc: No more hot-dog stand on the corner.

        A gang of young people had knocked it over as Mr. Walker watched, shocked, from his shoeshine stand inside Batsakes Hat Shop.

        “It caught us completely by surprise when we looked up and saw these people turning the corner, knocking over my man's stand, throwing cans at the windows,” said Mr. Walker, who has worked downtown 25 years.

        Reports of people being dragged out of their cars reminded him of Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots of 1992.

        “You would think in New York you might see that, or out in California or what have you,” said Diane Alessandro of Dayton, Ohio. “You wouldn't think Cincinnati would be a riot place.”

        The news was so unexpected it didn't quite register with Ms. Alessandro's mother, Janet Eilers, when she picked up her Dayton paper Wednesday morning.

        “I just glanced at the headlines, "Oh, Cincinnati had a riot, OK,' and threw the paper down,” Ms. Eilers said.

        The women proceeded to Cincinnati for a day of shopping, only to hit a snag at A.R. Jester Jewelers, 35 E. Seventh St.

        They had to wait until it was safe to go in.

        Cincinnati Police Specialist Scotty Johnson, president of the Cincinnati Sentinels, the black police officers association, said he is still optimistic about Cincinnati's police and community relations.

        “Cincinnati is better than what we saw last night,” he said. “The key is communication. We have to talk to each other and acknowledge our concerns. And we have to be honest with each other.”

        At Batsakes, owner Gus Miller stood fearlessly at the same window where angry juveniles had passed Tuesday.

        Just a few weeks ago, a firefighter lost his life searching for possible victims in a burning building, Mr. Miller recalled.

        “This is a nice city,” he said. “You think this is bad, you go to another city and you can't wait to get out of there.

        “When I get back home, I say, "This is the place.'”


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