Thursday, April 12, 2001

Violence a sign of unsolved problems

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati was a crossroads for African-Americans in the first half of the 20th century, a place where discrimination butted against tolerance.

        At the main train station, an African-American heading south had to sit in a separate, blacks-only section. A trip north meant sitting anywhere.

        Cincinnati today is still a community at a crossroads, a city grappling with race problems that have simmered for decades.

        Not since 1968 has the city seen stores set afire, windows broken out, people injured, all in the name of race relations. But veteran civil rights leaders say this week's events — sparked by a white police officer's Saturday morning shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old African-American in Over-the-Rhine — are simply an outward manifestation of a problem that has never been solved.

        “Race relations haven't changed very much,” says the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, an activist and civil rights pioneer who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

        “The city's had time to change. It should have been prepared and done more than it has. I would have hoped things would be better.”

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        The Rev. Mr. Shuttlesworth has spent most of his life carrying placards, organizing demonstrations and fighting for equality. The 79-year-old Roselawn resident said he still prays that people will put aside violence for reasoned talk and negotiations.

        “But people will rebel if they don't see themselves making progress,” he said. “The riots that are happening now ... are the result of Cincinnati not responding and not changing enough.”

        For more than 60 years, Marian Spencer has been on the front lines of the local civil rights movement. She has fought for employment rights, education and housing and was the first African-American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council, in 1983.

        She recalls the U.S. Civil Rights Commission coming to Cincinnati 22 years ago to examine police-community relations after a white policeman and a black man were killed in Walnut Hills. The commission looked at police procedures, such as shoot-to-kill, and made various recommendations.

        The similarity of today's situation is not lost on Mrs. Spencer, she said, adding that some policemen still are not comfortable with blacks.

        The riots aren't so much of a setback as a reminder that there hasn't been much change in three decades, added Bailey W. Turner, who during the Avondale riots was president of the Avondale Community Council.

        “The issues are basically the same city- and countywide in race relations, job opportunities for blacks, discrimination by banking institutions,” he said.


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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