Sunday, May 27, 2001

Tasters ignore protest, boycott

Big crowd turns out for festival;
Demonstrators direct rage at James Brown

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Protesters mix with festival goers in front of the stage as James Brown performs.
(AP photo)
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        Killing is out, school is in. That was the message James Brown used to open the 22nd annual Taste of Cincinnati on Saturday. But a crowd of more than 200 protesters — on hand to demonstrate against the city's handling of racial tension after the April 7 police shooting of an unarmed African-American — shouted that the “Godfather of Soul” sold out in agreeing to sing.

        Every time Mr. Brown sang “killing's out,” the crowd shouted “sold out” over his voice. Some demonstrators threw pennies at the stage and waved signs during Mr. Brown's 10-minute appearance.

        It was easily the most tense moment of the three-day festival's opening day. More than 150,000 estimated festival-goers, white and black, seemed to have a good time between occasional rain showers.

        One arrest was reported: A man was charged with trying to break into a car outside the event area, according to Cincinnati police Lt. Gary Brown.

        “Obviously (the heckling of James Brown) was a focal point to this event,” Lt. Brown said. “But he kicked it off and nobody was hurt, nobody was arrested and everybody stayed safe.”

Brown looks at protesters taunting him as he gets into a limo to leave.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        Rocky Merz, manager of Washington Platform Saloon and Restaurant, said his restaurant enjoyed its best Taste opening day ever.

        “The rain broke at just the right time, about 5 o'clock, just as the James Brown crowd was thinning out.”

        Protesters departed around 5:30 p.m. But they'll be back today in greater numbers, vowed the Rev. Damon Lynch III, one of the organizers. Taste continues from noon to midnight today and noon to 9 p.m. Monday.

        Although there are no turnstiles or tickets sold for Taste, festival spokesman Ray “Buzz” Buse said Saturday's turnout rivaled any other opening day.

        “It's a fine start,” Mr. Buse said. “The weather cleared, but the streets didn't.”

A protester greets festival goers on Central Parkway with a sign condemning police killings of black men.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        Larry Scott, an African-American from Bond Hill, said he wasn't buying into the boycott.

        “You can believe in the cause and not believe in the method,” Mr. Scott said.

        Freeman Jordan wasn't having any of it, either.

        Mr. Jordan, a 46-year-old African American from Avondale, has never missed a Taste of Cincinnati.

        “I feel bad that it turned so ugly during James Brown,” Mr. Jordan said between bites of Cajun snapper over dirty rice. “This festival is helping the city rebuild its economy. I'm all for that.”

        Many aren't, at least not until the city deals with racial strife that has surfaced since last month's police shooting death of Timothy Thomas, 19, , in Over-the-Rhine.

        The Rev. Lynch and other ministers making up the Group of Concerned Clergy led the protesters as they marched on Central Parkway. The peaceful demonstrators carried signs and chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”

Freeman Jordan, Michelle Woods and Florence Jordan enjoy food from the Washington Platform Saloon and Restaurant.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said the city's effort to bring out black entertainers is a slap in the face. Two R&B acts, Midnight Star and the Isley Brothers, canceled after initially agreeing to open the festival.

        “I think Mr. Brown was used by the city to try and make black folks dance,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “They think if we're dancing, we'll be happy.

        “He made a miscalculation that is disrespectful of the other artists and this community. To partake in Taste is to buy into the feel-good sense that everything is all right. It isn't.”

        Jeanne Bonham watched the group of protesters move down the street and said: “This is America at its best.”

        The 73-year-old Wyoming woman and a handful of others from the Queen City rode to Birmingham, Ala., on a Greyhound bus in 1965 to join the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a march to Selma for voting rights.

        “It's important to know you can object and can do it without hurting people physically,” Ms. Bonham said. “If you don't have that release valve, you'll have anarchy.”

        Rick Witte smiled as he watched his two daughters, Olivia, 6, and Hannah, 10, smear cotton candy all over their faces. Mr. Witte, 42, of Price Hill said he wasn't concerned about bringing his children to the festival.

        “I just wish the protesters would spend their time on more positive pursuits,” Mr. Witte said. “This is a good opportunity for people of all colors to come together and break bread.”

        Not until things change, said protester Sally Smith. Ms. Smith, a 19-year-old from Pleasant Ridge, said the idea is to not let the city forget its problems.

        “Enough is enough and things have to change,” she said.

        Mr. Brown said before his appearance that he came to the festival because he considers Cincinnati a second home. He recorded his first hit record here, “Please, Please, Please,” - and has loved the city since.

        He didn't sing for either side of the dispute, he said, but to bring people together.

        “I'm sorry to come back under these circumstances,” Mr. Brown said. “But we better enjoy each other and keep it together.”

Brown says he appeared for everyone
Taste of Cincinnati info: • EntertainmentMenuMap

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