Sunday, April 15, 2001

Unrest rekindles memory

        On April 8, 1968, I was rushing down Reading Road near Rockdale Avenue in Avondale with a note pad and a pencil as the crowd began to swirl, scream and shout.

        The day had been labeled “Black Monday” by black leaders in memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4.

        Black leaders had requested that no white police officers be on patrol in Avondale that day.

        People dressed in black stood arm in arm from the corner of Rockdale and Reading, forming a line south to Blair Avenue, then east to the Avon Recreation Center at 870 Blair Ave., where a memorial service was held for the Rev. Dr. King.

        Thirty minutes later, as the crowd gathered at Rockdale and Reading, something went wrong.

        A domestic quarrel led to the shooting of a black woman in an apartment on Forest Avenue, one block north. Someone spread the rumor that a black woman had been shot by a white cop. That wasn't true. At the time, there were no white officers in Avondale.

        I watched and took notes as a drug store, liquor store and furniture store went up in flames. Rocks, bottles and just about anything movable were thrown, and the crashing sound of windows breaking filled the air at Rockdale and Reading.

        I followed the mob as it moved from Reading Road and Rockdale to Burnet Avenue, where I saw adults, teens and little children burglarizing practically every business on the street.

        When I described the sit uation to my boss, Robert Harrod, city editor of the Enquirer, I was told to hire a photographer because no white photographers could be sent in.

Simmering City Hall

        The next day, April 9, was calm. And as Avondale sweltered in ashes, leaders — black and white — began to gather in City Hall, churches, synagogues, schools and community centers to develop a dialogue to make sure this would never happen again.

        There was some progress.

        Bailey W. Turner, president of Avondale Community Council in 1968, thinks the most significant thing that happened after the riots was more young people got involved in the discussions.

        He may be right. I covered a story in Avondale a few months later, in August 1968, that almost led to a riot. Only a corps of young, black security forces formed through the council prevented it from exploding.

        The incident that almost started the riot: a black woman was shot by a white man at Prospect and Reading, following an argument.

        The black security force stopped cars with whites and asked them not to drive through Avondale. There was no window smashing or rock-throwing, and nobody was injured.

        But here we are, 33 years later, with a full-fledged riot, caused by basically some of the same issues that choked us in 1968.

        What went wrong?

Finding solutions

        Maybe we should applaud ourselves that it took three decades before it happened again. But why? Has race relations so deteriorated that the dialogue has been destroyed?

        I have a suggestion, for what it is worth. Start a series of police-community meetings again — as was done after the 1968 riots. This time, make them each week in each police district. That will not solve anything right away, but we need to talk to each other.

        No community should have a person living in it with 14 warrants without the community councils knowing about him and helping to solve the problem. We should know now that sending a cop at him with a gun, somehow, brings on a dangerous confrontation.

        It is obvious that most African-Americans, especially men, want to avoid a confrontation with police. The worst kind of confrontation is a black man running and a white officer chasing him with a gun.

        The best kind is when they sit and talk.


Tonight's curfew pushed back to 11 p.m.
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Feds study police practices
Stories of 15 black men killed by police since 1995
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Vendors relocate to keep tradition
Hot dog vendor pays back hero with relish
- Unrest rekindles memory
A familiar story of Easter
Notebook: Here and there