Thursday, June 07, 2001

Ashcroft asserts stand against bias

Attorney general cites city as example of his commitment

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday that his response to protests and riots in Cincinnati was an example of the Justice Department's commitment to civil rights.

        In his first public comments on Cincinnati since he announced a federal investigation of the police division last month, Mr. Ashcroft said he has no higher priority than ensuring that all people's civil rights are protected.

        “On the streets of Cincinnati and elsewhere, our message — echoed in everything that we do at the department — is that government judging its citizens on the basis of their race is wrong and must not stand,” he told the House Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing.

        Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, asked Mr. Ashcroft whether he meant to imply that civil rights violations had occurred in Cincinnati or that the city judges people based on race.

        Mr. Ashcroft said the department had no preconceived notions about Cincinnati and repeated a promise to work cooperatively with police and city officials on a solution.

        “I would hope that Cincinnati becomes a model — this is a dream, an aspiration — for restoring trust between the citizens of a community and those who are responsible for the community,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “It would be a wonderful way for us to begin our effort together.”

        The Justice Department investigators are examining whether Cincinnati police have engaged in a pattern of excessive force.

        They were asked to examine the division by Mayor Charlie Luken after a police officer on April 7 fatally shot Timothy Thomas, an unarmed African-American who was wanted on several misdemeanor warrants. The shooting led to protests, rioting and a citywide curfew.

        Mr. Thomas was the 15th African-American male killed in confrontations with Cincinnati police since February 1995. Six were armed with guns, another took away an officer's gun. One was armed with a knife, one wielded a brick, another held a board with nails in it. Three of the 15 were not armed.

        Two of the confrontations involved suspects in cars, one of which dragged an officer to his death in September 2000.


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