Friday, May 11, 2001

Luken: Taste fest will go on

Officials resist objections

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Vowing not to let civil unrest disrupt any more downtown festivals, the mayor and business leaders declared Thursday that Taste of Cincinnati will go on as planned.

        A day after organizers canceled this weekend's Pepsi Jammin' on Main music festival, city officials said they will not be bullied by threats. They promised success for the annual Memorial weekend food fest.

        “I don't expect anything will get in the way,” Mayor Charlie Luken said. “I will do everything I can to make sure the Taste of Cincinnati is a success. It will be safe.”

        But others say the city has no business celebrating anything following last month's riots, the worst in the city since 1968. And they say the mayor's hard stance won't do any good.

        “He's trying to play a power game,” said Juleana Frierson, chief of staff for the Black United Front. “He's trying to put his thumb down on people and it's not going to work. He is trying to play strong mayor. It's a mistake.”

        The mayor's declaration came after he met with Black United Front leader the Rev. Damon Lynch III, who has organized marches, sit-ins and rallies to protest the April 7 police shooting death of an unarmed African-American man.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch has promised more civil disobedience throughout the summer and said Wednesday that the Taste of Cincinnati should be canceled.

        “He didn't acquiesce at all,” Mr. Luken said of the meeting. “He indicated he had no interest in Taste of Cincinnati one way or another.”

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch could not be reached for comment.

        Ms. Frierson said the protest group has not made any decision about Taste of Cincinnati. Other groups, she said, have promised to protest the event.

        “We don't have any plans about it,” she said. “That doesn't mean we will do something, that doesn't mean we won't.”

        A small contingent of restaurateurs and chamber of commerce executives — who sponsor Taste of Cincinnati — also met with Mr. Luken on Thursday. They said they were concerned about the event being canceled.

        But after promises of stepped up security and assurances from the mayor, they left City Hall optimistic.

        “The bottom is not going to fall out,” said Chamber of Commerce spokesman Raymond Buse III. “I can't even imagine a hypothetical event that would cause that to happen.”

        He said Taste of Cincinnati brings about $25 million into the city and takes about 12 months to plan. Its success, he said, is one way to show how the community can come together after the riots.

        “Taste of Cincinnati will be a great event this year,” Mr. Buse said. “We are fully confident we can manage peaceful demonstrations.”

        The conflict over downtown festivals is the latest rift between Mr. Luken and the Rev. Mr. Lynch, who last week was appointed to co-chair the mayor's race relations panel.

        The panel's mission is to explore solutions to the city's race problems and craft employment, education and economic policies.

        But Mr. Luken says sit-ins at businesses and City Hall are divisive. The Rev. Mr. Lynch says that change will not come without significant agitation.

        “We have a big difference of opinion,” Mr. Luken said Thursday. “It's getting bigger.”

        Mr. Luken also noted his difference of opinion Thursday with Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman, who has asked the mayor to appoint a commission to study violent crime in black neighborhoods. The union leader said leaders should be addressing black-on-black crime at the same time as they deal with police/community relations.

        “This is a sincere effort to try and do something,” Mr. Fangman said. “Ninety-five percent of these people who live in these neighborhoods are good, decent, law-abiding people. But they don't have the luxury of moving.”

        He suggested the new commission be called “Stop Killing Each Other.” The idea was prompted, in part, by three shootings in two days this week in Over-the-Rhine and nearby Mount Auburn. Five people were injured, all of them African-American, and police said the suspects also were black.

        “This is not an aberration, it's not a fluke,” Mr. Fangman said. “We need to say, "We have a problem and let's deal with it.'”

        But Mr. Luken said he would not appoint such a commission.

        “The city is not going to be engaged in it,” he said. “Mr. Fangman and I have had our differences. I learned a long time ago that I can't direct his energy.”

        Ms. Frierson said the Black United Front is also concerned with black-on-black crime. That's why she organized a demonstration at Robert A.'s Curve Cafe on Thursday. The bar was the site of one of the three shootings.

        “Just because the focus right now is on systemic racism in Cincinnati,” she said, “we're also especially concerned with black-on-black violence.”

        During the demonstration, she said her group talked to people on the street and offered support to the bar owner.

        Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.

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