Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Previous race reports ignored

This one will be different, Mayor Luken says

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati needs a special commission to ease strained race relations. The police division needs to change its hiring and discipline policies.

        And police officers must work more closely with the community to stamp out “injustice in any form.”

        If those ideas sound familiar, it's not just because Mayor Charlie Luken proposed them Monday in response to a week of racial violence in Cincinnati.

        It's because those very same ideas have been proposed time and again during the past 30 years by a series of city officials, blue-ribbon committees and special commissions.

        For the most part, those ideas have been ignored.

        “Those reports went on somebody's shelf,” said Cecil Thomas, executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission “If (city leaders) had acted back in the 1960s and 1970s, we wouldn't be where we are today.”

        At least six major reports on race relations in Cincinnati have been produced since 1968, including some that focused almost entirely on the city's police division.

        All of those reports found problems and many warned of dire consequences unless city officials took swift action to correct problems.

        The reports concluded that African-Americans often do not trust police officers, do not believe city leaders care about their concerns and do not believe officers are careful enough about how they use deadly force.

        All of those issues were raised again during the past week as Cincinnati was rocked by violent protests.

        “It is clear ... that a problem does exist between the police and the community,” concluded the Mayor's Com munity Relations Panel in 1979. “For certain segments of the community, an atmosphere of fear and distrust exists.”

        Another report, sent in 1993 to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, found that “racial and cultural isolation is a perennial problem.”

        “Worst of all,” the report found, “misunderstanding among neighborhood groups and residents causes genuine hostility that can have a citywide effect.”

        Some reports recommended ways to ease the city's racial tensions. Those recommendations included:

        • Creating a committee to conduct annual reviews of progress on racial issues in the city and the police division.

        • Ending the city's reliance on state civil service laws. Some complain that adherence to those laws restricts the city in hiring, firing and discipline in the police division. To change the system, the city must amend its charter.

        • Expanding diversity training within the police division and creating more opportunities for police and community leaders to discuss their differences.

        Just two years ago, the Sentinel Police Association compiled a report that urged city leaders to take immediate action.

        The association, which represents the city's black police officers, warned that something must be done to “quell the very tense and volatile atmosphere that currently exists between the police and the community.”

        Those warnings went unheeded, however. And now Mr. Luken's committee will be given the same task that those other committees faced: Identify the problem and fix it.

        The mayor and other city officials say they know the city did little over the years with the findings of the other committees. But this time, they say, it will be different.

        “The commission will work with and make recommendations to council on an ongoing basis,” Mr. Luken said. “We're not looking for them to give us a report here. We're looking for them to work with us and implement change.”

        He said help from the business community is crucial if this committee is to succeed where so many others failed.

        Ross Love, of Blue Chip Broadcasting, joined the mayor in pushing for the new committee. He said Cincinnati's businesses are ready to help.

        “This can't be another commission that writes a report that simply gathers dust,” Mr. Love said. “For the first time, I think there is a commitment on the part of folks who can get this done.”

        Enquirer reporters Richelle Thompson and Cliff Peale contributed to this report.


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