Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Race commission will take lead in recovery

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Flanked by the city's business and community leaders, Mayor Charlie Luken on Monday announced the end of a four-day curfew and the beginning of a community partnership to examine the roots of the violence that exposed deep-seated racial tensions.

        His hope: Cincinnati will become a model for other cities around the country on how to improve race relations.

The Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of the Cincinnati Black United Front, confers with Mayor Charlie Luken at City Hall Monday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        “We have been a community in crisis,” Mr. Luken said. “Out of this crisis comes an historic opportunity for our community to make meaningful progress.”

        The mayor announced the formation of a race relations commission that will explore problems such as housing, employment and education.

        He said he will appoint a commission next week that will be composed of religious, education, business and community leaders. Unlike other commissions, Mr. Luken said this one will work with City Council quickly to implement its recommendations.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III of New Prospect Baptist Church, leader of Cincinnati Black United Front, said he welcomed the race commission.

        “I think it's a good idea. It's still in the concept stage now but it's a good step,” he said. “It will have to have some teeth to it and the commission will have to set some short- and long-term goals with time lines ... and have some real accountability.”

        A challenge for the group is to include the voices of the protesters, primarily young African-Americans, said Ross Love, president and chief executive officer of Blue Chip Broadcasting, who was at the mayor's announcement.

        “It is critical that this commission use a process which has substantial grassroots input from all segments of the African-American community, including our young people,” he said. “They must do an equally good job securing input from the full range of stakeholders in the white community. This is the only a way a plan of action can be developed that will lead to substantial changes.”

  • City Council will let citizens speak out at a special meeting at 2 p.m. today in council chambers. Council canceled its regular meeting last Wednesday after the first round of violence in Cincinnati streets.
  • Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials say they will seek federal aid to help more than 120 businesses recover.
  • If council OKs a separate measure, Cincinnati's Economic Development Department will establish a $250,000 fund to repair broken windows. Businesses may be eligible for $2,000 grants to pay for costs not covered by insurance.
  • Police reported Monday that 852 people have been arrested since April 9, when protesters crowded Cincinnati City Hall and then proceeded to District 1 Police Headquarters.
  • More than 70 percent of the arrests — or 620 — were curfew violations. Twenty-nine of those arrested were juveniles.
        Mr. Luken said the city will not progress without resolving its racial concerns.

        “These issues are the top priority for our community,” he said. “We cannot achieve any of the other important things we're trying to do until we address them successfully.”

        The city's worst racial violence since 1968 began on April 10, three days after 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an African-American, was shot and killed in Over-the-Rhine by Cincinnati police Officer Steve Roach. Mr. Thomas was unarmed.

        Officer Roach is on paid administrative leave while the shooting is under investigation by the Hamilton County prosecutor. The FBI has also begun a preliminary inquiry.

        The end of the curfew came after a relatively peaceful Sunday night and early Monday. Overnight Sunday, 57 adults and three juveniles were arrested for violating curfew. That brought the total of disturbance-related arrests in the past week to 852.

        Mr. Luken credited ministers and community leaders with channeling protests into nonviolent displays.

        The state of emergency continues, which allows the mayor to reinstate the curfew if needed.

        Lifting the curfew cleared the way for the Cincinnati Reds to play a night game as scheduled today against the Milwaukee Brewers.

        Other Cincinnati activities struggled to regain the rhythms upset by the curfew.

        Jack Noppert, who has owned the Delhi House restaurant and bar on Gracely Drive in Sayler Park for 17 years, said business was normal for a Monday night, but the weekend curfew hurt his business.

        “It killed me,” he said. “Friday night is our biggest night of the year. It cost me $4,000 Friday, and $2,000 Saturday.”

        The unrest and curfew postponed WCET48's Action Auction, Cincinnati's largest fund-raising event, which acounts for a large part of the television station's budget.

        WCET president and CEO Susan Howarth said the situation prevented auction personnel from completing the preparation for the 10-day event.

        Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials plan to seek federal aid to help more than 120 affected businesses recover.

        Despite financial aid, some business owners fear people may avoid downtown after seeing reports of the violence.

        But Rosemary Weathers, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, said the phone rang almost nonstop Monday. Callers wanted to purchase tickets to this weekend's performance of Richard Wagner's “Parsifal,” which will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine.

        The board of trustees has hired extra security guards, who will be posted at entrances, parking garages and other key locations because of lingering perceptions the area is not safe.

        “Throughout the city, we all feel that perception is important,” she said. “We'll be part of the healing process. Music can heal the heart and lift the spirit. What better time to have music and heal us all?”

        The group that gathered Monday for a news conference with Mr. Luken at City Hall admitted the process of healing will be long and difficult. But it is vital, they said.

        “It's very clear to the total community,” said Sheila Adams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. “If we don't bring about change, then we will see the destruction of our city, chaos in our streets.”

        Mr. Luken said a cross section of the community is coming together in a way he hasn't seen before.

        Among those with Mr. Luken were John Pepper, chairman of Procter & Gamble Co.; James Orr, chairman of Convergys Corp.; Clifford Bailey, president of TechSoft Inc. and chairman of Downtown Cincinnati Inc.; and Jack Cassidy, president of Cincinnati Bell.

  Supporters of Mayor Charlie Luken's reforms include:
  • Stephen Adamowski, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools
  • Sheila Adams, president and CEO of Urban League of Greater Cincinnati
  • Jim Anderson, CEO of Children's Hospital
  • Clifford Bailey, president and CEO of TechSoft
  • John Barrett, president and CEO of Western-Southern Life Insurance Co.
  • Pat Bready, government relations manager for Cincinnati Bell
  • Herb Brown, vice president of Western-Southern Life Insurance Co.
  • Jack Cassidy, president of Cincinnati Bell
  • Tom Cody, executive vice president of Federated Department Stores
  • Eileen Cooper-Reid, director of Children's Defense Fund of Cincinnati
  • Dennis Cuneo, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America
  • Michael Fisher, president/CEO of Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce
  • Rev. Michael Graham, president of Xavier University
  • Chip Harrod, director of National Conference for Community and Justice
  • Norma Holt Davis, chapter president, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Eric Kearney, president of Sesh Communications
  • Laura Long, executive director of Cincinnati Business Committee
  • Ross Love, president and CEO of Blue Chip Broadcasting
  • Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church
  • Kathy Merchant, president of Greater Cincinnati Foundation
  • Dan Meyer, chairman of Milacron Inc.
  • Jim Orr, chairman of Convergys Corp.
  • Charlotte Otto, global external relations officer of Procter & Gamble Co.
  • John Pepper, chairman of Procter & Gamble Co.
  • Janet B. Reid, managing partner of Global Lead Management Consulting
  • Rob Reifsnyder, president of Cincinnati United Way
  • Debbie Schneider, regional director of the Service Employees International Union District 925
  • Rabbi Richard Steinberg, associate rabbi of Isaac Wise Temple
  • Bishop Herbert Thompson, bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio
  • Harry Whipple, publisher of The Cincinnati Enquirer
        City Manager John Shirey said the array of business leaders crowding into council chambers was unlike any he had ever seen.

        “Certainly at this stage, I've never seen a better commitment at higher levels of our corporate community than there is now,” he said. “But I don't want it to be just dollars. There certainly needs to be something done to right the feeling among some in our community that they're not part of the economic pie.”

        Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Convergys, Western-Southern Life Insurance Co., Cincinnati Bell and Milacron Inc. have invested millions of dollars in downtown, and will go to great lengths to protect those investments, said Dan Meyer, chairman of Milacron.

        “We can't let that deteriorate,” he said.

        In the short term, African-American leaders will work to repair businesses in the black community and put pressure on government leaders to include more minority-owned companies and black employees in the big construction projects on the riverfront.

        Cecil Thomas, director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, welcomes the work of business and community leaders. But he cautions the support must be long-term.

        “They can't just paint a few buildings and throw in a few playgrounds,” he said. “We have to have continued work. This will not be revolutionary change. It will evolutionary.”

        How City Council moves forward will become more evident today, after a special meeting to discuss reforming how the city selects a police chief and disciplines officers.

        The current selection system limits potential chiefs to the ranks of assistant chiefs within the city's police department. Chiefs are promoted based on test scores, and only assistant chiefs can take the test.

        Community leaders have called on the city to open the search nationwide for new chiefs. A national search would allow the selection of a chief more receptive to change and not beholden to fellow officers, they said.

        At least six council members would have to approve a charter amendment before it could go before voters in November. A similar charter amendment in 1997 failed.

        Mr. Luken also said the police chief needs greater latitude “to establish appropriate policies, practices, discipline and accountability” within the department. Right now, the civil service system that governs the department's hirings and firings limits a chief's discretion.

        With the proposed changes, “the chief can be more responsive,” said Mrs. Adams. “Right now, he has to go through nine or 10 hoops (to discipline an officer).”

        President Bush is concerned about civil unrest in Cincinnati but will not immediately use the situation to make any larger conclusions about racial profiling, a White House spokesman said Monday.

        “The president does not believe that out of a flash point of something very sensitive and very emotional, government leaders should rush to action and rush to decision on something like that,” said Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman.

        The U.S. Department of Justice has sent mediators and officials from its civil-rights division to Cincinnati. The department also is reviewing police practices after a request from city officials.

        This year, Mr. Bush asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to look at the prevalence of racial profiling across the nation. Civil-rights groups contend that police officers target members of minority groups for traffic stops or arrests at higher rates than whites. A racial profiling suit is pending against Cincinnati.

        During a press briefing Monday, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked about Mr. Bush's response to the events in Cincinnati. He said the president supports law enforcement but is sensitive to complaints from the community.

        “But the president is not going to do it — to use any one incident,” Mr. Fleischer said. “He will do it as a result of a thoughtful, careful manner that unites Americans in how to get it done.”

        Enquirer reporters Cliff Peale, Susan Vela, Ken Alltucker, Derrick DePledge and Michael D. Clark contributed to this story.


- Race commission will take lead in recovery
Previous race reports ignored
Report promised soon on beanbag firings at crowd
Police chief disarms critics
Citizens police review panel feels excluded
Grand jury may get case in a week
Heimlich, Luken at odds over handling of riots
Store owners hope for aid from city, feds
City to tap resources of businesses
Reds not expecting problems
End of curfew brings relief
Mayor Luken's views
PULFER: Why didn't we see this coming?
Black youths speak of change
Week of spring break taught lessons