Sunday, June 03, 2001

Peaceful marchers cry out for justice

No arrests until group blocks Mount Adams street

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        June Gragston was there with her grandson, Tracy Gragston, both walking slowly north on Vine Street, compressed in a march that stretched at least two blocks and spilled over to the sidewalks.

        “I wanted my grandson to come out and know what it was like back in the '60s,” said Ms. Gragston, referring to the civil rights movement. She is 71, African-American and lives in Kennedy Heights.

[photo] Angela Leisure is helped away from the site of the shooting death of her son, Timothy Thomas, during Saturday's March for Justice.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        “She told me about it,” said Tracy, who is 20, but he added he really didn't need any prodding. “I'm here to protest injustice in general. It needs to stop. We need to show the city that we cannot tolerate injustice.”

        They were among 2,000-3,000 marchers who participated in a March for Justice Saturday afternoon that began with a rally on Fountain Square, followed by a march that began at the square and followed a route of about a dozen city blocks to Laurel Park in the West End.

        No arrests were made during the march, but seven protesters were arrested Saturday evening after about 80 people blocked a street in Mount Adams.

        The march had been organized as a call for racial justice shortly after the April 7 Cincinnati police shooting death of an unarmed black 19-year-old, Timothy Thomas. Mr. Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, spoke at the rally and was at the front of the march.

        “I pray my son will be the last one to die, but I don't think he will be,” said Ms. Leisure. “Who will be the next parent to lose their child?”

        Police, who led the march in patrol cars and were a presence along the route, reported no arrests. Both the entrance to District 1 police headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive and the police memorial across the street were barricaded.

[photo] Police estimated 2,000 people took part in Saturday's March for Justice, which ended at Laurel Park in the West End.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        “There were no arrests, no unusual incidents,” said Cincinnati police Lt. Ray Ruberg afterward. “They followed the parade route. They did exactly what they said they were going to do. They got their message out and we got them through their parade safely.”

        At least two cloudbursts, which brought out umbrellas, did not discourage people from slowly filling Fountain Square. By the time the march got under way at 1:10 p.m., the sky had cleared.

        March organizers estimated the crowd at about 3,000. Police later estimated the turnout at 2,000. The marchers carried placards, banners and homemade signs, chanted along the route and remained peaceful. Some came from Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

        Cheryl LaBash, 51, of Detroit, took time off from her job as a construction inspector to attend the march.

        She was impressed to see “tremendous unity” between the blacks and whites in the crowd.

        “It signifies the reality that there is and can be unity against racism and that there are many, many white people who are willing to come out to defend the black community,” she said. “This was a resounding statement by the city of Cincinnati and those of us who came from many, many areas that police brutality ... is not going to go unchallenged.”

        Julian Brand, 10, marched with his father Glen Brand, whose daughter Althea, 2, was asleep in a stroller.

[photo] Police arrest a protester in Mount Adams early Saturday evening. About 80 protesters attempted to shut down the restaurant district.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        “I care about all the racial things going on, and how Timothy Thomas got killed and I think it's wrong,” said Julian.

        “I think it's really important for Cincinnati families to turn out for something like this,” said Mr. Brand, of Clifton. “We're here because it's a peaceful rally. We're here to support the call for justice and to stop police brutality.”

Remembering Thomas
        As the marchers approached Vine and 12th Street — just a couple of blocks from where Mr. Thomas was killed in an alley off Republic Street — signs were lowered, the chanting ceased and the only sound was a helicopter hovering overhead.

        Some of the marchers, including Ms. Leisure, walked to the alley where Mr. Thomas was killed, a forlorn strip of real estate wedged between vacant buildings and a lot overgrown with weeds, and set down a wreath.

        Frederick Denton stood outside on the sidewalk on 12th Street and watched the march pass him. He held his arm aloft.

        “It looks good,” said Mr. Denton, who said he couldn't participate because he needed to watch some children. “I see black and whites together. I wanted to feel this, and I wanted them to feel me being here.”

        The first marchers reached Laurel Park at 2 p.m., joining scores of people at the park attending the fourth annual Rev. McCrackin Day Celebration, in honor of the Rev. Maurice McCrackin, the long-time Cincinnati social activist who died at the age of 92 in December 1997.

        Jackie Shropshire, vice president of the West End Community Council and one of the organizers of the march, was encouraged by the way the march went.

        “It went as planned,” he said. “I think the rain earlier had a cleansing effect on what we're trying to do. People really bonded.”

Mount Adams protest
        Saturday evening, seven protesters were arrested by police after about 80 people — most of them white — marched on Mount Adams to draw attention to what they say was selected enforcement of the city-wide curfew in April.

        Police said the protesters would be charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors. Of the seven arrested, only one was confirmed from Cincinnati. Two refused to give police their names and addresses, and one was listed as homeless. The others were from Oakland, Calif., Chicago and Washington, D.C.

        There were no injuries or vandalism reported.

        The arrests took place after protesters blocked the intersection of St. Gregory and Hatch streets, in front of Mount Adams Bar & Grill. The restaurant had been criticized by African-American leaders and fellow business owners after reports that the business stayed open during the curfew declared by Mayor Charlie Luken in April after rioting spread from Over-the-Rhine to surrounding neighborhoods.

        Bar and Grill co-owner Pat Sheppard did not respond to a message left at the business Saturday evening.

        Protester Julia Reichert, a professor at Wright State University, said the march was an act of civil disobedience to stop traffic and draw attention to the inequalities that exist between the white upper class and blacks in Cincinnati.

        “Curfew violators in black neighborhoods were roughed up and hauled off to jail,” said Ms. Reichert, 54, of Yellow Springs. “But nothing happened to curfew violators in Mount Adams.”

        Many residents and families having dinner Saturday gathered on the sidewalks and watched as police moved in to make arrests.

        “Anytime we see shotguns in Mount Adams it is a concern,” said Doreen LaRue, co-owner of Visionary Art in Action, an eclectic art gallery. “We thank the police for being here. They protected the businesses and residents.”

       Enquirer reporters Jim Hannah and Susan Vela contributed.

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