Friday, May 18, 2001

Tension shadows memorial march

Police hoping for public support, not protests

By Michael D. Clark and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Cincinnati police march through downtown streets this afternoon to honor fallen officers, they'll be joined by supportive citizens — and possibly some protesters.

        The annual gathering on Fountain Square and parade to the city's Police Memorial are the main events downtown for the National Peace Officers Memorial Week.

        But in the wake of the April 7 police shooting death of Timothy Thomas, and the subsequent unrest, this year's events could be the most well-attended as well as contentious.

[photo] At the Northern Kentucky Police Memorial, Covington Sgt. Bill Maurer (foreground) and other officers fire a 21-gun salute during a memorial service on Thursday. Cincinnati's march will be today.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Cincinnati police officials say the event is coming at an opportune time and they hope it will unify what they have described as a largely silent but supportive majority of citizens that backs the police force's 1,000 officers.

        “Hundreds of our supporters have asked how they can help,” said Keith Fangman, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. “This is their chance. Please show up. It's an opportunity for the silent majority to become the vocal majority.”

        “I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world,” said Melva Gweyn, co-founder of Westwood Concern, a pro-police group with more than 200 members.

        “There is an outrage on how the police are being treated in our city,” Ms. Gweyn said of the local and national criticism of Cincinnati police regarding their treatment of African-Americans.

        Next week, a Department of Justice team arrives to investigate an alleged pattern of civil rights abuses. At the same time, a mediator has been hired to settle a federal lawsuit by African-Americans who say city cops have practiced racial profiling.

    May 13-19 is National Peace Officers Memorial Week. Greater Cincinnati police departments have gathered to honor officers who died in the line of duty.
    • Police memorial ceremonies begin at noon today on Fountain Square downtown, where Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher will make opening remarks and Ohio State Treasurer Joseph Deters will deliver the keynote address.
    • A parade forms at Fountain Square at 12:30 p.m. It includes participating officers, their families, friends and supportive citizens. It proceeds north on Vine Street to Central Parkway, west on Central Parkway to Ezzard Charles Drive and to the Police Memorial, which is across the street from Police District 1.
    • Watch for: A riderless horse in honor of fallen officers, a flyover by planes in the “missing man” formation and a 21-gun salute in honor of officers struck down on duty. FOP President Keith Fangman is keynote speaker at the Police Memorial.
        That protesters may attend today's parade doesn't deter Mr. Fangman.

        “We will not be intimidated. And downtown Cincinnati on Friday the 18th of May will be the safest place in the country,” he said.

        If protesters show up it won't be with the endorsement of the Rev. Damon Lynch, head of the Cincinnati Black United Front and one of the more prominent police critics.

        “We are not anti-police,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said Thursday. “We have no intention of being there because it is a memorial for fallen officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. These men and women need to be respected. ...

        “There are some serious issues Cincinnati needs to address ... but this is not the place,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said.

        But other civil rights groups, such as the Coalition of Justice, or individuals may protest - despite conversations the Rev. Mr. Lynch said he has had to dissuade them.

        Coalition officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

        Recent protests were racially charged in part because Mr. Thomas was black and the officer who shot him, Stephen Roach, is white. But Police Chief Tom Streicher said it would be ironic if protesters come out today because the memorial parade will honor a black officer, Kevin Crayon, killed in September in an incident involving a 12-year-old boy, who also died.

        “Our officers could really use it right now,” Chief Streicher said of a strong showing of support.

        Ms. Gweyn and other Westwood Concern members will be at the event - which will include honor guards from Hamilton and Butler county sheriff's departments and Sharonville and Springdale police departments.

        “We've had a small minority who have been allowed to run the city,” she said of protesters. “They don't speak for the majority of people but they are pandered to.”

        William Bailey, president of the Price Hill Citizens on Patrol, said its members also plan to attend.

        “It's an opportunity for the general public to show up and show their support for police, recognizing the fact that these officers put their lives on the line for the public,” said Mr. Bailey.

        He said any attempts to disrupt the event would be unfortunate.

        “My personal feeling is that it would be like someone interrupting a funeral procession. It would be total disrespect,” he said.


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