Monday, July 02, 2001

41 shootings in 10 weeks

All but one of 59 victims were black

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the weeks after the April riots, gunfire crackled at an alarming rate through Over-the-Rhine, West End, Avondale, Bond Hill and other predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

        Some of the same Cincinnati neighborhoods that paid a toll in broken glass and looted buildings during the riots have suffered from a recent rash of shootings.

Map of shootings
        According to an Enquirer analysis of Cincinnati Police Division reports from April 7 to June 15:

        • Forty-one shootings were reported. That compares with three such shootings a month in spring 2000.

        • Three people died in those recent shootings; 21 suffered serious injuries.

        • Fourteen — or 34 percent of the shootings — had indicators of gang activity, including multiple suspects and multiple getaway cars.

        • In total, 59 people ended up on the wrong side of a gun — and all but one were black.

        • The 22 known and arrested suspects were black males.

        Carrie Johnson, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, said it's been a primary topic at the bus stop and in the grocery store.

        “Everybody's talking about it,” Ms. Johnson said. “It's a shame that they're killing each other. I'm disgusted by the whole thing.”

        Black-on-black shootings noticeably spiked after April 7, when a Cincinnati police officer shot an unarmed 19-year-old African-American, Timothy Thomas, in Over-the-Rhine and violence en sued in predominantly black neighborhoods.

        According to the Enquirer's analysis, the post-riot shootings peaked in the first two weeks of May, when 14 were reported.

        Some police officials blame gang activity and chronic black-on-black violence. Others say there could be no rhyme or reason to recent gunfire.

        “That's the big question. Why was there such a large amount during April and May, and why has there been a slowdown?” said Lt. Ray Ruberg, spokesman for Cincinnati police. “It just seemed like they were random acts of violence. They've slowed down considerably in the last couple of weeks.”

Rampant violence

               “It's like the OK Corral out there,” said Keith Fangman, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Blacks are being slaughtered in the streets of Cincinnati and we cannot solve this problem by ourselves. We need the help of the mayor, City Council and community leaders.”

        But no new programs are in the works, and other recent violent-crime numbers are equally alarming: The city has had 21 homicides this year, compared with 29 for all of 2000, and bank robberies are on pace this year to double last year's numbers.

        One of the most recent shootings ended in death. The night of June 24 — a week ago Sunday — Jonathan Johnson, 21, and another black man argued in a crowd on Short Vine Street in Corryville. Then the man shot Mr. Johnson and drove away in a 1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass with a convertible top and an “M&M” candy logo on the rear panel. A driver in another car might also have been involved, police said.

        No one has been arrested in Mr. Johnson's death.

        Seven people have been indicted on felonious assault charges in the recent shootings. Others were never caught, never charged or had charges dismissed.

        One problem, according to Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Allen, is witnesses who change their stories or back away from testifying; they're more loyal to neighbors than the criminal justice system.

        “It's like the Wild West,” Mr. Allen continued. “It's unprecedented to have this many ... There are many people out there that have no second thoughts about pulling out a gun and shooting. It's just something that has gotten out of hand.”

Gang rivalries

               Ros Boles lives in Madisonville, where two recent shootings occurred. The 39-year-old African-American woman works in Over- the-Rhine, where 11 shootings occurred in the 10 weeks covered by the Enquirer's analysis. She said she isn't frightened because she believes gangs and drug dealers are targeting each other and not ordinary citizens.

        “I don't think it's where you go out there and someone's going to pick you off. (But) these guys are just blowing each other away. Don't we need to take care of that? This is like constant now,” Ms. Boles said.

        Still, she wishes Cincinnati's leaders would wave banners and hold rallies to stop the black-on-black shootings, just as they did when Mr. Thomas died.

        “This is just as big of a problem,” Ms. Boles continued. “I don't think (city leaders) can ignore it. These are people's sons. Their deaths shouldn't be any less important.”

        While city officials and community activists have said better living conditions and more economic investment in Cincinnati's predominantly black neighborhoods could help, such efforts require time.

        Mr. Fangman wants the city to form a commission to study violence in black neighborhoods. Mayor Charlie Luken said the topic will be among the things studied by his task force on race, Cincinnati Community Action Now.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine and a voice for the African-American community, requested the help of an outsider, the Rev. Eugene Rivers. The Rev. Mr. Rivers is a Dorchester, Mass., ex-gang member and Harvard graduate who helped curtail gang homicide in South Boston. But no meeting has been arranged.

"People are scared'

               City Councilman Jim Tarbell lives in Over-the-Rhine and said economic investment would prompt change. He said he wishes it would happen as soon as possible but change will be slow.

        “There's been a lot of show business involved in the last few months, and it has taken its toll. (But) people are scared,” he said.

        Ralph Stiens, 74, and his wife, Maxine, 71, were watching television on the night of June 5 when lights atop police vehicles flashed across their living room walls in Northside.

        They rushed outside to learn that Jason Gandy, an 18-year-old African-American, had been shot fatally outside the apartment building next door.

        Police still haven't identified suspects, but officers said the shooting appears gang-related because of multiple getaway cars.

        “It's hard to believe things like that happen,” said Mr. Stiens. “It's a tragedy.”


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