Monday, April 16, 2001

Sharpton: Police need federal-level oversight

By Mara H. Gottfried
Enquirer Contributor

        The controversial and charismatic Rev. Al Sharpton whisked into town Sunday to deliver his message that the Timothy Thomas shooting ought to be a wake-up call for the nation.

Judge Leslie Isaiah Gaines reacts to the sermon by Rev. Al Sharpton at the New Friendship Baptist Church in Avondale Sunday.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        “It's Cincinnati today, it could be anywhere else tomorrow,” he said, calling on President Bush to meet with civil-rights leaders.

        The New York City Baptist minister, who is a vocal critic of police, brought the large congregations of two predominantly African-American churches to their feet.

        “Anytime you mess with God's children anywhere, God's children everywhere need to stand up and demand what is right,” he said to cheers and applause at his first stop, the New Friendship Baptist Church in Avondale. “You don't need to act in a way to destroy your community. You do need to fight — until those that wear blue uniforms are subjected to the same laws as those who wear blue jeans.”

        The Rev. Mr. Sharpton began both sermons quietly. By the end he was shouting and the congregation responded: “Come on Al, say it,” and “Preach!”

A 26-year-old male from Walnut Hills, outside the New Friendship Baptist Church where the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke, said he did not agree with him.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        But the tone outside New Friendship Baptist was different. Derrick Blassingame, 14, said the Rev. Mr. Sharpton missed the point.

        “He doesn't need to be talking to these people,” the Avondale teen said. “Al needs to sit down with the young people in Over-the-Rhine and speak to them because they're the ones out there on the street.”

        The Rev. Mr. Sharpton, who also spoke at New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine, called for the federal government to take a role in improving relations between African-Americans and local police departments. He stressed:

        • Police departments ought to be restructured so they will be accountable.

        • The Justice Department should have a policy to deal with police departments.

        • Attorney General John Ashcroft needs to meet with victims of police brutality.

The Rev. Al Sharpton prays at the memorial for Timothy Thomas at the site where he was killed by police.
(AP photo)
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        President Bush “can talk about compassion, but what better time to sit down and deal with the problem in his own nation?,” the Rev. Mr. Sharpton said. “He just went through a crisis with China, but you have a crisis in your nation when you have three days of violence in Cincinnati.”

        The Rev. Mr. Sharpton cut short a trip to Sudan after receiving phone calls from the pastor of New Friendship Baptist, the Rev. H.L. Harvey, and Cincinnati Councilwoman Alicia Reece and Bond Hill businessman Steve Reece.

        After speaking at the churches, the Rev. Mr. Sharpton held a short prayer vigil in the Over-the-Rhine alley where Mr. Thomas was shot. He said he will leave today but might return later in the week.

        He was joined Sunday by lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, who worked with Johnnie Cochran on Abner Louima's case against New York City police who assaulted him.


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