Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Ex-manager's counsel: Do something by end of summer

Action would build long-term trust, he says

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Monday's indictment of a Cincinnati police officer in a shooting death won't make Sylvester Murray's job on the mayor's new race commission any easier.

        But Mr. Murray, who is special counsel to Cincinnati Community Action Now, said Tuesday he doesn't think it will make things harder either.

        Examining Cincinnati police procedures was an issue the panel planned to tackle regardless of the indictment of the white cop on lesser homicide charges, said Mr. Murray, the only African-American city manager in Cincinnati history.

        And he said it won't affect his approach to bridging Cincinnati's racial divide.

        In an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday, Mr. Murray talked about the need for immediate change and, possibly, for hiring more minority police officers to patrol black neighborhoods.

        “We've got to pick the low-hanging fruit now while we can,” Mr. Murray said. “I think it is very important that people see something happen from this commission by the end of the summer.

        “You build people's trust for the long term based on action now. This summer we have the opportunity to lay that foundation for the long term.”

        He will be paid $1,400 a day plus expenses to work exclusively with the privately funded panel that Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken organized after the April riots.

        Commission chairmen are Blue Chip Broadcasting chief executive officer Ross Love; Tom Cody, a Federated Department Stores Inc. executive; and the Rev. Damon Lynch III, leader of the Black United Front. The mayor charged the commission with examining the roots of the April violence that exposed Cincinnati's racial tensions and to explore problems such as housing, employment and education.

        Mr. Murray said his first order of business as special counsel will be to visit and talk with scores of Cincinnatians.

        During his tenure as city manager from 1979-185, Mr. Murray walked the streets talking to cops and citizens alike in an effort to ease tensions between police and residents. He spoke at police union halls and community centers.

        But more important, he listened - a skill he plans to use with Cincinnati CAN.

        “I intend to do a lot of listening,” he said. “It is very important that we have the people identify what they think the issues are and then discuss those things with the mayor's commission on race.”

        The 60-year-old Cleveland State University professor would not comment on what message he felt the grand jury was sending with its decision on Officer Stephen Roach.

        But, he added, “The decision is saying more than just (whether) this officer guilty or not.”

Across racial lines
        Mr. Luken said he chose Mr. Murray because he is able to bring the community together, and he has significant experience in urban affairs.

        “He has the ability to cross racial lines,” Mr. Luken said.

        When the mayor called and asked him to help, Mr. Murray didn't hesitate.

        “I still have positive feelings about Cincinnati,” Mr. Murray said. “This city accepted me graciously years ago and I felt that I owed it to the city to help out if I could.”

        While city manager, Mr. Murray was said to be a key player in easing tensions between police and residents, skills city leaders value highly.

        “At that time, in addition to the black community complaining to the city, the police were also complaining that they needed to be paid attention to,” Mr. Murray said. “And they were also protesting.”

        Mr. Murray recalled one police protest in which several officers drove their cruisers down to City Hall, parked them on the sidewalks, turned on the sirens, locked the doors and left. Some officers and their spouses paid City Council a visit during that day's session, he recalled.

Skilled listening
        Mr. Murray said what he and city leaders did to defuse the situation was simple.

        They talked and they listened.

        “We went to the police station and when they were lined up for duty, we talked to them,” he said. “We did not just send word down through the chief of police.

        “We literally went out into the community, into the billiard halls and recreation centers, the basketball courts,” he said. “We stopped in taverns and bars and we talked to people.”

        If healing is to occur, Mr. Murray said city and community leaders must ask questions, and let people talk.

        Once, he said, he went to the Cincinnati police union hall to talk to officers about the tensions between police and the community.

        “They told me I wasn't welcome and they weren't going to let me in,” Mr. Murray said. "I told them I'd wait outside as long as it took until they did.

        “Finally, they let me in and when they did ... they hollered and called me all kinds of names, but at least they talked to me,” he said. “They told me what it was they didn't like and all of that had an impact on the way things turned out.”

Understanding the problem
        Cincinnati leaders should not expect to solve all of the problems in four months, Mr. Murray said.

        “A lot of time, people aren't necessarily expecting you to solve all the problems,” he said. “They feel better when they think that you know what the problem is and you really have an understanding of that problem.”

        Mr. Murray said he may advise the commission to hire more black police officers and to have those officers police black communities.

        “Now, that doesn't guarantee that a black police officer is not going to use his nightstick to hit a black man or even shoot him if necessary. That may happen,” he said. “But there is just a sense that when a black person sees a black police officer, he doesn't have to do a lot of explaining or running.”

Protesters noisy but peaceful
- Ex-manager's counsel: Do something by end of summer
Feds trying to defuse distrust
Luken critical of role played by minister
Call is made for special prosecutor

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