Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Luken critical of role played by minister

Mayor says Rev. Lynch thwarts recovery efforts

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A minister chosen to help lead the mayor's race-relations panel isn't helping the city recover from civil unrest by leading protests that disrupt businesses, block traffic and stop city meetings, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said.

        But the Rev. Damon Lynch III said Tuesday that Mr. Luken is out of touch with citizens. And he said the mayor made a mistake if he thought the panel appointment would quell any civil disobedience.

[photo] The Rev. Damon Lynch III (right) leads a sit-in at the Fifth and Vine Street Bar inside the Westin Hotel.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “I didn't ask to be part of the commission. I serve because I am concerned with my community,” said Rev. Lynch, who heads the Cincinnati Black United Front civil rights group. “The mayor has no idea what the people want. He has no concept.”

        Mr. Luken said he only expects one thing: for people to obey the law.

        “Downtown businesses need our support and help. They don't need customers turned away,” he said. “Mr. Lynch and I have a legitimate difference of opinion about whether the protests are helpful or productive.”

        Some council members agree and said Tuesday that if Rev. Lynch is going to disrupt businesses that he should not be on a city panel that is seeking to solve city problems.

[photo] Malcolm Anderson of Over-the-Rhine holds a sign referring to the Rev. Lynch at a City Council committee meeting Tuesday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        “It's outrageous,” said Republican Councilman Pat DeWine. “If he is not willing to respect the law, then he shouldn't be the head of a committee.”

        Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat, said Rev. Lynch has enormous potential to lead in a constructive way — but that isn't what he saw Tuesday.

        “There was a real sense of intimidation there,” he said. “Innocent people (business owners) shouldn't be hurt through this process.”

        Rev. Lynch, however, was praised by dozens of others Tuesday, who shook his hand, yelled encouragement and said thanks for his efforts. They repeatedly said he was one of the few speaking for their community.

        After leading hundreds in a march on police headquarters on Monday and in a march from Fountain Square to City Hall on Tuesday, Rev. Lynch said change only comes when it is agitated — and the city needs change.

        Rev. Lynch started his rally at the Fifth & Vine Street Bar inside the Westin Hotel, where the protesters seated themselves, began chanting and nearly put a halt to regular business.

[photo] Susan Scheper of Newport shakes hands with the Rev. Lynch during a protest gathering Tuesday on Fountain Square.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Mr. Luken named Rev. Lynch as one of three co-chairs to his race-relations panel two weeks ago.

        The commission is supposed to examine the roots of the violence and explore problems such as housing, employment and education.

        Mr. Luken said Tuesday that he talked to Rev. Lynch about the protests and a statement the minister made about the need for local clergy to set an example for the community by getting arrested if needed.

        He said law breakers cannot be tolerated, no matter who they are.

        “I give Damon Lynch high credit for directing his energy into non-violent protest, that's why I put him on the commission,” Mr. Luken said.

        “I have no problem with the need for change. That's why we've done the things we've done.”

        Rev. Lynch confirmed that he talked to the mayor, but said they never reached an agreement.

        “What I tried to give him was an understanding of what civil disobedience is about,” he said. “Cincinnati can't go back to business as usual.”

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