Sunday, April 15, 2001

Shooting set off tinderbox of old troubles

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Vandals in Over-the-Rhine broke windows in the stores where residents buy bread, milk and clothes. They damaged corner taverns where people meet and set fire to their cars.

        In Cincinnati — as in Detroit and the South Central and Watts neighborhoods in Los Angeles — this poor black community's rage turned in on itself last week. The violence that residents were protesting Monday had destroyed much of the community by Friday.

        As neighbors talk on front stoops, some say the rioters couldn't see the big picture, that they destroyed what good the neighborhood had to offer. Others say the destruction was the only way to draw the city's attention to the injustices that poor people face.

        “The city should still be burning,” says Eugene Vassar, 38, walking down Race Street in the heart of Over-the-Rhine. “We don't feel like this is our community.

        “We don't like living down here. We think we should live the same as (Hamilton County Sheriff) Simon Leis and (Mayor) Charlie Luken.”

        What sparked the riots in Cincinnati, according to Dr. Henry Giroux, a professor of cultural and youth studies at Penn State University, is similar to what has happened in other cities.

        But the incident that starts the violence — in Cincinnati a police officer killing an unarmed black man — is usually not the only impetus. Living in a neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine, where jobs are few and housing is inadequate, is part of the fuel for the fire.

        So is crime. There were more calls for police help — 3,160 — in Over-the-Rhine than any other city neighborhood in the first two months of this year. Some 241 serious crimes were reported, one of the highest in the city.

        “It's a pattern,” says Dr. Giroux, author of Fugitive Cultures: Race, Violence and Youth, a book that examines media stereotyping of minority youth.

        “We see this as far back as 1964 in Oakland (Calif.). We see the ignition, but we don't see the underlying systemic structure.”

Causing resentment
               Violence starts with an irritation about economic conditions and a lack of opportunities, he says. Inadequate child and health care, low-paying jobs, disparity of wealth and failing schools: All these breed resentment.

        Add the absence of home ownership and control over business and economic development, and residents don't feel the community is theirs, urban analysts say.

        Overall home ownership in Cincinnati is 38 percent, says Karla Irvine, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a Mount Auburn agency that works to end housing discrimination.

        But for African-Americans it is only 26 percent.

        Many of the 7,638 residents in Over-the-Rhine say they don't have a stake in their neighborhood. African-Americans make up almost 77 percent of the population, but whites own most of the businesses and housing.

        “I'm not saying that people who have rented there for 20 years don't have a stake,” Ms. Irvine says. “But if they owned something, they have a bigger stake.”

        Dr. Giroux agrees.

        “The sense is they live in the community, but they don't own it,” Dr. Giroux says. “They have a sense of being at home but feeling homeless.”

Damage hurts residents

               Although damage estimates are not yet available, boarded-up windows show widespread damage to places such as Tucker's Restaurant, Barr's Loans, Deveroes clothing store and countless other small businesses and shops.

        An ATM is no longer at 146-year-old Findlay Market, one of the city's most historic places.

        During the unrest, vandals firebombed one of the market's newly renovated buildings, and several vendors have said they aren't coming back. Elderly men and women who depended on the market now have to take the bus to buy groceries.

        “I can't even go to the market and buy a piece of meat,” says Corine Williams, 81. “I can't even go up there and get a loaf of bread. It's made it hard on everybody.”

        To those outside the community, in middle-class suburbs, the violence may seem odd, even ludicrous, Dr. Giroux says. But he understands the circumstances that might push people over the edge.

        “If you don't have resources, you don't have choices. And if you don't have choices, you don't have much left,” he says. “Maybe you say, "We need to break a window, burn a building down.'

        “Nobody is listening, and you think, "This is the only way. You have got to listen to the plight of this community.'”

        Joe Brown, a clerk at Cee Kay Beauty Supply at Race and Elder streets, surveyed the damage around his store near Findlay Market.

        The place where he grew up will never be the same, he says.

        “They think if they hurt the white store owners they'll get some sort of justice out of the situation,” he says. “It's not the same no more.

        “They don't realize they're just taking from themselves.”


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