Sunday, July 15, 2001

Groups call for boycott of city until demands met


Lack of progress cited on racial issues

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At least 14 activist and ministerial groups Saturday called for an international boycott of Cincinnati, saying the city has “made no concession” on racial issues since the April riots.

        Spokesmen for the groups — including the Baptist Ministers Conference of Cincinnati, a coalition that has conducted voter registration drives and encouraged police reforms over the years — vowed to place severe economic pressure on the city and urge organizations with upcoming conventions here to meet elsewhere. They also demanded that the federal government and other national organizations withhold money from the city.

THE DEMANDS
  • Grant amnesty to those arrested during the April riots.
  • Fire police chief Thomas Streicher, FOP President Keith Fangman and city manager John Shirey.
  • Place a charter amendment on the November ballot to change civil service laws that dictate how police and fire chiefs are hired.
  • Declare racial profiling illegal via a federal court order and reform police and Hamilton County judicial systems.
  • Give subpoena and investigative powers as well as staffing and support to the Citizens Review Panel or the Office of Municipal Investigations to handle complaints against police.
  • Fund neighborhood development plans.
  • Appropriate $2 million annual to the Citizens Committee for Youth for workplace development programs.
    More details on demands
YOUR OPINION
Tell us what you think of the boycott.
        The groups also are asking Tristate residents to avoid patronizing downtown businesses and to avoid certain public events. They would not say whether that includes boycotting the Coors Light Festival and Ujima Cinci-Bration, a downtown celebration that attracts a mostly African-American crowd. The event begins this week. A second group making a separate call for a boycott Saturday, the Combined Coalition for Justice and Racial Equality in Cincinnati, included the jazz festival in its boycott declaration.

        “These economic sanctions will allow the entire community to share our pain,” said William Kirland, a spokesman for the African American Cultural Commission.

        A clearly aggravated Mayor Charlie Luken described the boycotts as “destructive nonsense.” Mr. Luken said he tried to persuade community leaders not to call for sanctions earlier in the week, but his pleas were futile.

        “It's destructive. It's unnecessary and it should be rejected,” Mr. Luken said. “To have Cincinnatians trying to tear down their own city is a sad state of affairs and it should stop.”

        At least one convention organizer contacted Saturday said the boycott would change nothing.

        Julie Vincent, conference chairwoman of the National Association of College and University Food Services, said it would have taken “a natural disaster” to keep the group of about 1,000 to 1,200 away this weekend.

        “We would absolutely be here,” she said. “There is way too much commitment (to back out).”

CONVENTIONS
   Some of the upcoming conventions and events scheduled for the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center:
   • National Association of College & University Food Services
   • Ohio American Legion
   • The Rev. Creflo Dollar Ministries
   • National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice
   • International Pentecostal Holiness Church
   • A. Philip Randolph Institute
        Since the unrest in April, several initiatives have begun to address issues that are contributing to racial tension. Mr. Luken has created a race commission to effect change, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Cincinnati police and a communitywide process is under way to reach a mediated settlement in a lawsuit alleging racial profiling by Cincinnati police.

        Mayoral candidate Courtis Fuller said he couldn't comment about the boycott specifically because he hadn't seen the group's demands or position statement. However, he did say the boycott is a sign of frustration.

        “Personally, I would like to see us find other solutions than a boycott,” he said. “If I was mayor today, I could not support a boycott.”

        Downtown business owners called the effort misdirected.

        “I don't think we are responsible for the problems they may have in Over-the-Rhine,” said Gary Gerwe, owner of Bromwell's, a decorative hardware store. He said the boycott will affect his business, “but I don't see how that's going to help.”

        Greg Koch, a part-owner of Koch Sporting Goods, predicts that few people will participate in the boycott.

        “A person who thinks that's going to do any good isn't a consumer I want to deal with anyway,” he said. “I look to my minister for spiritual help, not to tell me where to shop.”

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of Black United Front and a co-chairman of the mayor's race commission, said he supports the boycott. He was joined by about 50 people at one of the news conferences Saturday.

        “We still haven't turned the corner toward real reconciliation, healing or justice,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said after the news conference.

        Cincinnati Black United Front has previously called for boycotts of downtown restaurants and Taste of Cincinnati. Group members have called their actions successful; city leaders have said their impact has been debatable.

        Elsewhere in the nation, such as in South Carolina, where African-Americans decried the flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol, boycotts have been effective..

        “These actions have become necessary because no meaningful effort has been made to meet the needs and demands of the poor and African-American communities in Cincinnati,” said the Rev. James W. Jones, first vice president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Cincinnati and Vicinity and chairman of the Coalition for Justice and Equality. “Until these demands are met, the sanctions and selective buying campaigns will persist.”

        Among the list of demands made by the groups:

        • Amend the city charter so the city can recruit the best person in the country to be the police or fire chief. As it stands, top positions must be filled from within the ranks.

        • Eliminate racial profiling through a federal court order and implement total reform in the city police and Hamilton County judicial systems.

        • Fund neighborhood development plans.

        • Appropriate $2 million annually to support the Citizens Committee for Youth for workplace development programs.

        • Grant amnesty to everyone arrested and jailed because of the April unrest.

        • Give the Citizens Review Panel subpoena and investigative powers and needed staffing.

        • Fire Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman and Police Chief Thomas Streicher.

        Juleana Frierson, chief of staff for Black United Front, said the coalition has compiled a list of every group planning a convention in Cincinnati through 2003. She said the coalition will contact each organization weekly to discourage them from coming. She would not comment on strategies the group will employ to discourage people from visiting downtown.

        The call for a boycott of conventions and tourism drew reactions ranging from skepticism to anger from residents, businesses and city officials. It comes at a time when the region is working to fund an expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center. Additionally, downtown establishments are reporting a downturn in business since the April riots that followed the shooting of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man fleeing police who was wanted on 14 misdemeanor charges.

        Councilman Phil Heimlich said city leaders will not succumb to “shakedown” tactics and questioned how an economic boycott will help the African-American community.

        When downtown shoppers learned of the economic boycott invoked by spiritual leaders and activists Saturday, many expressed doubt that they and others would stop spending money downtown.

        “It's easier said than done,” said Dena Mcghee, 28, a North Avondale resident. “Some people say it, but then they're down here shopping the next day.”

        Steve Ostmann, 27, of Fairfield, said that even if some consumers do quit spending money in the area, it will not be enough to make an impact. He won't be participating.

        “You've got to support the city,” he said.

        Chris Jefferson, 32, will also continue to shop downtown, though he said he might have participated in the boycott had the April riots not occurred.

        Three days of rioting occurred in the city. April.

        “People are opposed to the negativity sent out by the riots,” said Mr. Jefferson, of Covington. “I don't want to support any of that.”

        Mr. Luken said residents should react to this call for economic sanctions the same way they did to the boycott of Taste of Cincinnati.

        “People need to come out in increasing numbers to support the city,” he said.

        Enquirer reporters Robert Anglen, Emily Biuso, Lew Moores, Stephenie Steitzer and Amy Higgins contributed to this story.

Related Stories:
Boycotts have long, mixed history
Demands sweep across city, county policies
Names behind the boycott
1st Unity Day will join diverse music, speeches, races
Amnesty may offer help
Cultures interweave for children



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