Sunday, May 20, 2001

Part I


You can't buy peace

        First of consecutive columns about fixing racial problems in Cincinnati. Monday's column: The island American forgot

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        Cincinnati has a bad case of “riot ideology.” It's a disease of fear and guilt that makes cities think they can buy peace and safety.

        “Cincinnati has the advantage of watching what other cities have done. If it follows the same path, very little good will come of it. Businesses and the middle class will be chased away. What Cincinnati is doing doesn't work.”

        That advice is from Fred Siegel, author of The Future Once Happened Here, an excellent book about riots and what they do to American cities. Mr. Siegel's book makes it as clear as broken glass that we're heading down a dark alley.

        So far, Cincinnati's response to April riots is a $2.2 million jobs program, capitulation in a costly lawsuit alleging racial profiling, and a new adviser to the mayor at $1,400 a day.

        The mood at City Hall fits Mr. Siegel's definition of 1960s riot ideology: “. . . the assumption that riots and their criminal aftermath were both justified and, to a considerable extent, functional in rectifying the sins of racism. The power to disrupt became a claim against the treasury. Violence, or at least the threat of violence, became a way of extracting money. . . ”

        From his home in New York City, Mr. Siegel cautioned that his advice was “from a distance.” But it seemed dead-on target. “Cincinnati seems incapable of learning from the 1960s,” he said. “There are no known cases of success for cities using that approach.”

        Riot ideology works like this: Anger, frustration and despair trigger riots; politicians respond with more failed government programs; that makes more prisoners of bureaucracy, patronage and corruption — that provokes anger, frustration and despair. . .

        “The devastation wrought by misguided policies was adduced as proof that even more money had to be spent on those same policies,” Mr. Siegel writes.

        Meanwhile, the city decays. Brick by brick, the foundation that supports all those social programs crumbles. Protests and riots scare away customers, and downtown businesses close. If nobody goes downtown, the city goes bum-broke and poverty and crime rise all the way to Detroit.

        “My sense is you're probably in danger of that,” Mr. Siegel said. “The large industry, the headquarters companies, they want to buy off trouble. Peace at any cost. So big business gets together with the political leaders and leaves out the smaller businesses and the people.”

        And those left out “will vote with their feet by leaving or not coming to Cincinnati. That's the danger now.”

        His answer: Address legitimate problems, but give attention to riot repairs, not demands. And, “You do need to reform your police department,” for more civilian control and accountability.

        But if we just blame the cops, “They will simply back off and crime rates will skyrocket,” he warned.

        Since the riots, arrests by police are down a third, and 10 black men have been shot by black men.

        The cops say escalating violence in black neighborhoods is causing more violent arrests and police shootings. But Mayor Luken rejected their request to address black-on-black crime.

        In Cincinnati lately, anyone who objects to riot ideology is gaveled down.

        And that one-way street is a dead-end, Mr. Siegel warned. “Accommodation has to be two-way or whites or blacks will walk away.”

        Los Angeles figured that out after the 1992 riots and broke free of the riot ideology of the 1965 Watts riots.

        “Cincinnati is about 10 years behind the times,” Mr. Siegel said.

        And 10 years from being another Detroit if we don't figure out that paying for riots only buys more violence.

        Contact Enquirer Associate Editor Peter Bronson at pbronson@enquirer.com.

Monday: The island American forgot



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