Sunday, April 15, 2001

Protester Lynch becomes
Peacemaker Lynch

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The week that tore Cincinnati apart worked powerful changes on the Rev. Damon Lynch III.

Rev. Damon Lynch III speaks at Timothy Thomas's funeral.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        As he struggled to put his hometown back together, he went from being a crusading coat-and-tie pastor in Over-the-Rhine to a dashiki-clad guest on Nightline.

        His transformation followed Monday's City Hall protest over the shooting death of Timothy Thomas by police Officer Steven Roach. During that heated confrontation, the Rev. Mr. Lynch was branded an agitator.

        Now, after nights of both ugly race riots and curfew-imposed quiet, he's assumed the mantle of peacemaker.

        The lean, 6-foot-4 North Avondale native proudly answers to both labels.

        In the second-floor office of his New Prospect Baptist Church, the Rev. Lynch said he feels he must raise questions and point fingers as he tries to make peace.

        As he spoke, conflicting sounds and sights came through his office's open window. Across the street, carefree children giggled on a swing set in a small playground. Down the block, historic Findlay Market stood deserted and shuttered, closed after rioters looted several shops.

        Inside the office, phones rang constantly. Aides fielded interview requests from NBC, CCN and the BBC.

        During a Friday interview with Enquirer columnist Cliff Radel, the Rev. Mr. Lynch explained his reasons for playing many roles.

        Question: Over the past week you've been called everything from a community activist and racist to the man who demanded answers and held City Council hostage. Which label fits best?

        Answer: All of those labels are me. Moses was a prophet and he is one of my heroes. The prophets are al ways out in the streets saying, “Let my people go.” They are in the king's court saying, “You are wrong.”

        Q: Were you born to question authority?

        A: My father (the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr.) was in the (civil rights) movement. I grew up in a house where Fred Shuttlesworth came over for discussions. As a little boy, I'd sit on the steps where no one would see me. They'd be talking in the living room. They'd say: “We need a black Santa Claus.” Or: “We need jobs at Keebler.”

        They were fighting for justice at the time. I'm sure they were tagged with being racists.

        Q: Can you put this week into perspective?

        A: It took the violence of the last few nights to give international attention to something in this city that we in the African-American community have been feeling for years.

        Q: Riots, lootings, gunfire, arson and beatings marked and marred the week. Can you name the darkest moment?

        A: The violence on the street. I take that back. The darkest moment was the loss of Timothy Thomas' life.

        Q: The brightest moment?

        A: The community is coming together for the first time, acknowledging that we do have some problems in our city. The business community and the broader religious community are finally coming to the table. And they're saying: “We're sorry. We've been negligent. We've had our heads in the sand — for 14 deaths.”

        Q: Do you sense any symbolism in these incidents happening during Easter week?

        A: This is a time of death and resurrection. And that is exciting.

        If it was just a time of death, we would have no hope, nothing to look for. But this is a time of resurrection. So, out of this, Cincinnati will grow.

        Q: How will that growth occur?

        A: Cincinnati will have to take an honest look at itself. We are a little Southern river town that wants to be a great cosmopolitan city. Butwe've got some real serious issues we are afraid to address.

        Q: Cincinnati avoids conflict. You are a native, and yet you confront it. Why?

        A: This is my city. It's my business to make it better.

        Q: Do you love your hometown?

        A: Yes. I love it so much I want to turn it around. Cincinnati used to be known as a good place to raise your kids. That's not true anymore.

        We're a city that's losing population like rats on a sinking ship. We're a city where the school system stinks. We're not the most livable city in North America anymore. We're not a good place to raise your kids. But we have what it takes to turn that around. We just have to put a true face on our problem.

        Q: And that problem is?

        A: We talk about light rail, expanding the convention center, the 2012 Olympics, The Banks riverfront development.

        Let's get real. We've got racial problems. We can build stadiums. But can we deal with our human relations? We can. If we come together, we can build a great Cincinnati.

        Q: How can the community take the next step and join forces?

        A: First, find those in the community who live to bring about social change. Next, keep talking. Don't let this slow down. Keep the business community involved.

        Q: If the momentum resulting from this tragedy continues, what do you envision a year from now?

        A: A community revitalized. Young African-American men working. Children learning. People laughing, loving, playing. The cloud that is over us lifted. And, more gray hair on my head.

        Q: Throughout this week, you've existed on no sleep and little food. What keeps you going?

        A: When things were at their worst, I said the prayer of Jabez, from First Chronicles: “Bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory. Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!”

        Q: What's the message of your Easter sermon?

        A: The Resurrection — of Jesus. And, this community.


Tonight's curfew pushed back to 11 p.m.
City hopes healing begins
FBI, police investigate beanbag shootings
Mourners hear call for new Cincinnati
Sense of need sends many to service
Shooting set off tinderbox of old troubles
Feds study police practices
Stories of 15 black men killed by police since 1995
Officer Jorg's trial delayed
Fallen officers forgotten, widow says
King calls for inclusion, end to profiling
- Protester Lynch becomes
Mount Adams patrons defied curfew
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