Thursday, April 12, 2001

Violence worsens, spreads

Officer shot at, saved by belt buckle;
Mayor says National Guard may be needed

By Howard Wilkinson and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Police detain two men immediately after an officer was struck by a bullet on his belt buckle near the corner of Greenup and Vine Streets.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Violence that was confined to a small area Tuesday spread Wednesday night into several black neighborhoods of Cincinnati as rioters set fires, looted stores and, in one case, shot a Cincinnati police officer.

        The police officer was not seriously hurt; the buckle of his gunbelt caught the bullet that was shot at him near Green and Vine streets about 11 p.m., Police Chief Tom Streicher said.

        The shooting set off a frantic manhunt through alleys and streets of Over-the-Rhine, as police looked for a gunman described as a black man in his 50s wearing a sleeveless shirt. (MAP: Where officer was shot)

Leah Goss of Over-the-Rhine hugs her son Kieran, 10, on the corner of Liberty and Vine Street after the shooting of a police officer.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Mayor Charlie Luken said just before midnight that a decision to call in the Ohio National Guard will likely be made within 48 hours.

        “I want to be clear, it's not necessarily tanks on our streets,” he said. “It is posting of guardsmen on the street to control the streets.”

        Mr. Luken said police officers cannot continue to work 12-hour shifts. “Events tonight are showing that we must consider it. Citizens are at risk.”

        Top city officials will meet today to decide whether the National Guard is needed to be called in to help stop the violence in Cincinnati.

        “We have to evaluate what goes on overnight. The biggest concern we have is if other spots break out. It's something you have to start to consider,” Chief Streicher said. However, he added, “We're not anywhere near being in a desperate situation.”

        Immediately after the shooting, the tension level soared in Over-the-Rhine. Police officers had weapons drawn and barked loudly to passers-by and reporters to not get too close.

        “You're going to get killed,” they screamed.

        Violence broke out Wednesday night in Evanston, Avondale, Walnut Hills and the West End. Tuesday, unrest had been largely confined to Over-the-Rhine (MAP: Over-the-Rhine).

Norwood police block Montgomery Road where a car with a broken rear window stopped after driving through Evanston and being hit by thrown objects.
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Unidentified man screams in pain and anger after being hit by a projectile driving through Evanston.
(Gary Landers photos)
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        Disturbances continued overnight, with police reporting more fires, break-ins and looting in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Shortly before 5 a.m., police scanner traffic talked about a group of African-American men at Liberty Street and Central Parkway throwing rocks at passing cars. A few minutes later, Race Street retailer Deveroes was again broken into and clothes carried out, according to the scanner traffic.

        Police were continuing to make arrests.

        The unrest was prompted by the death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was shot early Saturday by Cincinnati Police Officer Steve Roach.

        Earlier Wednesday, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen announced a county grand jury will launch an investigation as early as Monday into shooting of Mr. Thomas, an unarmed black man in Over-the-Rhine.

        The investigation will determine if Mr. Roach, a four-year veteran of the police division, committed a crime when he shot and killed the 19-year-old Mr. Thomas.

        Police Lt. Ray Ruberg said late Wednesday night that the situation had “turned very dangerous. It's going to affect each officer differently, but we have been trained to deal with these situations.”

Police check out the vandalized Thanh Mai Market on 918 E. McMillan Avenue in Walnut Hills.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Chief Streicher insisted his police division does not need outside help. He would call in the Ohio National Guard if he thought the violence was going to continue long term, the chief said.

        He also said his officers were not dealing with one large group of protesters.

        “We're chasing (smaller groups) more than anything,” Chief Streicher said.

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        Mr. Streicher said the violence that unfolded Wednesday night was sharply different than what was seen Tuesday.

        On Wednesday, the violence developed slower, but then it spread to more spots around the city. There was more gunfire, but fewer suspects and fewer incidents of crime, he said.

        Shortly after midnight, Mr. Streicher would not identify the officer who was shot. He was uncertain if his wife had been told of the shooting.

Youths scramble over a fence in the Kroger parking lot at Central Parkway and Vine Street Wednesday night after police began firing non-lethal projectiles to disperse them.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        The officer, serving on the SWAT squad and in the police division for 10-15 years, was standing on Green Street as protesters picked up bottles to hurl at officers, the chief said. Police began firing bean bags into the crowd when the suspect stepped out of a nearby alley and shot the officer.

        Chief Streicher credited the buckle on the officer's gun belt for preventing serious injury. The mangled bullet was lodged in the clothing over his stomach, just below his bullet-resistant vest.

        The shooting of the officer, “Raises the stakes just a little bit for everybody,” Chief Streicher said.

Motorist attacked

        In Avondale, a mob of black youths that had been pelting passing cars with bricks stopped a car on Reading Road and dragged a white woman into the street, beating her until other neighborhood residents rescued her.

Casita McCrary of Over the Rhine is upset after police fired into the crowd in the Kroger parking lot at Central Parkway and Vine Street.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        Kim Brown, an Avondale resident who was a witness to the attack, said members of the mob pulled the woman out of the car and “started busting her up.” Then, Ms. Brown said, other neighborhood residents stepped in to pull the woman to safety.

        Hundreds of Avondale residents took to the streets Wednesday evening after a group of protesters from Bond Hill marched down Reading Road into the neighborhood. (MAP: Avondale)

        At 10 p.m., a bonfire was blazing in the middle of Reading Road south of Blair Avenue, as police in riot gear watched.

        Keith Reynolds, who works for Pizza Kitchen on Reading Road in Avondale was surprised the protests had spread to the neighborhood.

        “I didn't know this was going to happen. But it's going to keep happening until they get their answers.”

        Shortly after 10 p.m., fire crews responded to a report of a police substation at Montgomery Road and Woodburn Avenue in Evanston being set on fire.

        Earlier, a fire station at Liberty and Linn streets in the West End was under assault by a group of youths hurling bottles and rocks.

Officer points a shotgun at a protester and orders him to move along past an arrest that is about to take place on Reading Road near District Four headquarters.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        In Walnut Hills, police cordoned off a four-block area around the intersection of Gilbert and McMillan avenues after gangs rampaged through the area, breaking windows and lighting trash fires.

        Things had been quiet throughout the day in Walnut Hills. But when night came, chaos erupted. “Just like that,” said Capt. David Ratliff of District 4, snapping his finger. “People started going up and down the street smashing things. They really did a number here.”

        The angry crowds that trashed businesses and set fires in Evanston pushed up Montgomery Road and spilled over into Norwood, where police tried to block off streets leading into that city.

        An employee at the Norwood Cafe on Montgomery Road said police came in at 10:30 p.m. and asked the restaurant to close early. “They just totally closed us down, for safety reasons,” said the employee, who would not give her name.

Masked protester in the 100 block of Central Parkway West.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Mayor Luken said the violence has resulted in white people being targeted for their skin color.

        “This is ridiculous; too many people appear to be having fun. It's not fun, it's not funny. It's got to stop,” he said.

        Mr. Luken said the city spends hundreds of thousands of hours trying to improve neighborhoods, and “it is irresponsible to let those areas get ripped apart.”

        Some of the rioters may be coming from out of town, he said, and he does not believe the violence is any longer related to the original protests.

        “It is time to separate these issues,” said the mayor, who is to meet with City Manager John Shirey today. “There is no excuse for what is happening. This is one of the saddest days of my life.”

        Cecil Thomas, executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, drove for several hours around the city and saw police “exercising a tremendous amount of restraint in making arrests.”

Elaine Coffy-Vinson corrals her son as he runs in front of a line of mounted police.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Mr. Shirey said the shooting of a police officer and spread of the violence was especially troubling.

        “That tells us that maybe there are people getting bolder and more violent,” he said.

        But he still hadn't decided whether calling in the Ohio National Guard is the best solution.

        “It's not a matter of hesitating,” he said. “We've been able to handle the situation with our own resources. (But) it's getting to the point where we need some relief.”

Resident heard shots
               The situation in Over-the-Rhine was especially tense for officers and residents. Lee Washington, 44, of Over-the—Rhine, said he heard shots when the police officer fell. He said he went outside his apartment in the 1800 block of Vine Street to see what was going on.

New Black Panther representative Robert Pace, left, leads a large group of protesters from 13th and Republic Streets down Race Street toward Central Parkway.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        “I was just walking by and you could hear the bullets whizzing by my head,” Mr. Washington said.

        He said the police held him momentarily with a shotgun at his head when they thought he might be the shooter, but let him go as soon as they realized he was a bystander.

        “I've never seen anything like this,” he said.

        Earlier in the day, civic and religious leaders pleaded for calm, while those who were victimized by Tuesday's 12-hour rampage through downtown and Over-the-Rhine struggled to recover.

        The pleas came after a night unlike anything the city has seen since rioting leveled much of Avondale after the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

        By the time the unrest ended late Tuesday, police had arrested 66 people, including five juveniles, and the Cincinnati Fire Division had made 53 runs. Eleven fires, most of them minor, were set in Over-the-Rhine during the disturbance.

Angela Leisure, mother of Timothy Thomas, shot to death by police Saturday, went on WIZ/Buzz radio Wednesday to ask for calm.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Mr. Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, repeated her call for calm Wednesday in a visit to WDBZ-AM, an African-American talk radio station.

        “Stop,” she told listeners, “because there's nothing good going to come from this.

        “A lot of innocent people are getting hurt, and it's not going to bring my son back,” said the Golf Manor woman.

        Her son was shot to death early Saturday at 12th and Republic streets in Over-the-Rhine. Officer Roach had chased Mr. Thomas, who was wanted on warrants for misdemeanors and traffic violations.

        In the streets of Over-the-Rhine on Wednesday, young and old struggled to deal with what happened Tuesday and whether it helped or hurt their cause.

Chief Tom Streicher stands with talk show host Lincoln Ware at Central Parkway and Race Street, along with an officer carrying an assault rifle.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Douglas Springs, a member of the Cincinnati Black United Front, told Over-the-Rhine residents gathered inside New Prospect Baptist Church, 1829 Elm St., that everyone has their part in the protests.

        “In the '60s and '70s, I was among the young people at that time who got in the streets and protested and caused trouble,” Mr. Springs said. “But now that I'm older I know that it's my job to negotiate (with city leaders). The young people can protest in the streets now. They just have to let us older people do our part and negotiate.

        “By doing this it might be a way to prevent — 30 years down the line — the young brothers in the streets now from having to negotiate like I'm doing now,” he said.

        For Zandra Gover, 19, it was too late for talk.

        While she said she doesn't agree with the vandalism or the rock and bottle-throwing by some protesters, she said it is a means to an end.

        “The proper way doesn't work for us,” she said. “At least now (because of the violence) people are listening to us.”

A "Closed" sign at the Crossroad Health Center at Liberty and Vine Streets adds: "Please pray for our city."
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Marge Hammelrath, director of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage was done in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday.

        She was reluctant to pinpoint the amount any further, saying that it could inspire people to stay away from the Main Street area.

        “This is the time when we're going to make the city or break it,” she said.

        Chief Streicher pleaded for an end to the violence.

        “I'll be honest with you, I'm really worried inside,” the chief said. “I'm worried about somebody else getting hurt.”

        After a night of arson, smashed store windows and bloody confrontations between police and protesters, Councilwoman Alicia Reece stood in front of City Hall on Wednesday calling for peace.

        She said the city needed two things — calm from angry residents and action from city leaders.

        “Calm down,” she said during a press conference. “I am asking that people not be violent.”

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, whose Black United Front organization has been at the forefront of black criticism of the police division, planned to open the pulpit of his New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine Wednesday afternoon to anyone in the community who wanted to deliver a message of peace and a plea for order.

        During the day, the streets of Over-the-Rhine were full of people who, while clearly angry over the death of a black man at the hands of police, were protesting peacefully.

        Reporters Ken Alltucker, Dan Horn, Kristina Goetz, Cindi Andrews, Marie McCain, James Hannah, Robert Anglen, Allen Howard and William A. Weathers contributed to this report.

- 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
Report on Tuesday's violence
Photo gallery
Map of affected area