Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Protesters noisy but peaceful

Charges too light, they say

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Scores of young people, mostly African-American, took their anger and frustration to the heart of downtown Tuesday in protests that were peaceful — but disruptive — to businesses and traffic.

        The protests were sparked by Monday's indictment of Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach, who shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, on April 7 after a foot chase in Over-the-Rhine.

        The officer was indicted on two misdemeanor charges — negligent homicide and obstructing official business. They are the least—serious charges that could have been leveled against him.

[photo] At City Hall, police Capt. James Whalen asks marchers their intentions during a protest Tuesday. They had marched from a rally at Fountain Square.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Officer Roach's lawyer will enter a written not guilty plea today. The officer surrendered Tuesday and is free after posting 10 percent on a $2,000 bond. He has been reassigned to desk duty and remains stripped of his police powers.

        His wife said Tuesday in an interview on WKRC-TV (Channel 12) that he expects to be acquitted and has empathy for the Thomas family. “There are two families that have been torn apart. There needs to be healing,” Erin Roach said.

        Cincinnati Police reported Tuesday three Main Street businesses and a police substation in Corryville sustained damage after the indictment of Officer Roach was announced Monday evening. The rear window of a police cruiser was also broken out.

        On Tuesday, protesters gathered midday at Fountain Square before holding a sit-in at the Fifth and Vine Street Bar inside the Westin Hotel across the street.

        The group then went back to the square before marching down the center of Vine Street to Ninth Street and to City Hall, blocking traffic all the way.

        It was a loud demonstration that lasted more than four hours. Another protest is planned today in front of the Hamilton County courthouse.

[photo] The Rev. Damon Lynch III addresses City Council's neighborhoods committee at City Hall Tuesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “We've got to ratchet it up to a national level and let people know Cincinnati is not a place to bring your conventions or your business,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, who led the protesters and is co-chair of the mayor's new race relations commission.

        “Until there is justice, there will be no business as usual, no lunch as usual,” he said.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said the idea for gathering at Fountain Square walked into his New Prospect Baptist Church Monday night. The pastor said young people wanted to protest on the square because it represents the investment in downtown business compared to the disinvestment they see in their own neighborhoods.

        “I looked up and about 150 young people came walking through the doors,” he said. “The people here today have never been given the microphone, never been given the podium.”

        And they weren't again on Tuesday.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said a permit to hold a rally on the square was denied by Mayor Charlie Luken. He said a microphone and loudspeakers were removed by city officials to prevent them from being heard.

[photo] A prayer circle on Fountain Square was part of Tuesday's protest.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Mr. Luken said he had nothing to do with the decision.

        But the person in charge of issuing the permit said it was denied after a meeting Tuesday morning with Mr. Luken, City Manager John Shirey, Acting Public Safety Director S. Gregory Baker and Assistant City Manager Betty Baker.

        “A group was already authorized to be on the square,” said Joe Charlton, Deputy Director of Public Services. “There was pretty much a consensus of opinion. People felt we should respect the group that already applied.”

        That decision didn't silence the protesters.

        The group chanted, sang, and held signs that read “Stop killing our children” and “Cops who kill behind bars not desks,” while people ate their lunches.

        “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” was one chant.

        “I've been pushed aside my entire life,” Brandon Johnson, 21, of Eden Park said while holding a sign inside the restaurant that read: “Evil genocide, stop police brutality.”

        As the group left the restaurant, the Rev. Mr. Lynch chided one protester for eating a plate of chicken wings. “You're giving them your money,” the pastor said.

        Westin Hotel Manager Wayne Bodington said the protest startled some of his customers, but he understands the frustration.

        “Emotions are running very high, and individuals felt the need to protest,” Mr. Bodington said. “I don't have a problem with that, so long as it's kept peaceful.”

        It was.

        Lamont Jordan, a 28-year-old West End resident, said non-violence is the right way to protest. But the plan is to hit businesses in the pocketbook.

        “There ain't no money for us brothers in the street,” Mr. Jordan said. “This can make a difference, because all they care about is money.”

        After the march to City Hall, council's neighborhoods committee suspended its business for the day to hear from the protesters. Outside chambers, more than 15 officers watched. Other officers, armed with beanbag shotguns, were on the second floor, in City Hall offices and across the street.

        More than 20 people spoke to members of the committee. They also passed out fliers promising “No justice, no Jammin' on Main,” referring this weekend's music festival on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.

        Willis Fleming, pastor of the First Antioch Baptist Church in Walnut Hills, said the young protesters won't go away until the problem goes away.

        “The (indictment) yesterday was nothing but a slap on the wrist,” Pastor Fleming said. “There's a lot of conventions coming into town, and we will not go away.”

        Mr. Jordan said placing black officers in neighborhoods with high percentages of black people isn't the answer.

        “That's segregation,” he said. “You got to teach them to love us.”

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said criticism that black leaders had lost touch with young people was well grounded. That gap is beginning to be bridged after Tuesday's demonstrations, he said.

        “This is a beginning,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “Black leaders got a stark reality check a few weeks ago. We were so disconnected, they wouldn't listen to us.

        “There have been years of disinvestment in our community, and these young people need to have a hand in changing that. People don't burn down what they build.”

        Reporters Robert Anglen, Marie McCain and Michael Clark contributed to this report.

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