Wednesday, July 18, 2001

2 groups deny backing boycott

Shouldn't be on list, they say

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two clergy groups say they should not have been listed as supporters of a boycott declared Saturday against downtown Cincinnati.

        On Saturday, a group called the Combined Coalition for Justice and Racial Equality in Cincinnati held a press conference announcing a boycott against downtown conventions, events and businesses.

        The organizers claimed in a news release that the boycott has been endorsed by at least 14 other organizations. A 15th organization was added to its Web site Tuesday.

        But leaders of the long-established Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and of a new ministers' group called Concerned Clergy said Tuesday they were surprised to see themselves on the pro-boycott list.

        “We may be sympathetic to the concerns, but as a group we have not agreed that a boycott is the answer,” said the Rev. Jeannette Thomas Shegog, president of the alliance and pastor at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Walnut Hills.

        Critics of the boycott have pointed to the list of supporting organizations as evidence that an economic protest is unlikely to command widespread support.

        Without the ministerial alliance and Concerned Clergy, they say, the coalition supporting the boycott boils down to one politically powerful organization — the Baptist Ministers Conference — and several left-wing political groups.

        Effective boycotts are most often organized by larger, more credible organizations, said City Council member Pat Dewine.

        “This is kind of a case of the emperor having no clothes,” he said. “The more this goes on, the more people are going to realize how small these groups are and how few people they really represent.”

        The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance was formed more than 25 years ago so a variety of churches and synagogues could work together on issues of mutual interest.

        The group includes 150 clergy members, but active participation in meetings and projects ranges from as few as 10 churches to more than 60, the Rev. Ms. Shegog said.

        Since the April 7 shooting of Timothy Thomas by a Cincinnati police officer, alliance members have been involved in prayer walks in Over-the-Rhine and other efforts, including Monday's Unity Day event on Fountain Square. The shooting triggered the protests and riot that erupted April 9-12.

        Many members of the ministerial alliance are not satisfied with the progress on race relations, the Rev. Ms. Shegog said.

        However, many also want to give the recently formed Cincinnati CAN committees some time to work.

        Mayor Charlie Luken formed the race relations group in April.

        The Concerned Clergy includes about 75 members who formed the group in the wake of the Thomas shooting, organizers said.

        This group includes some ministerial alliance members as well as Muslim clergy and others, but most of its members have declined to be identified.

        The Rev. Clarence Wallace, pastor of the Carmel Presbyterian Church in Avondale and chairman of the Concerned Clergy group, said he and other members stood with boycott organizers at Saturday's news conference to show support for the coalition's demands.

        But they plan to wait until September to assess the progress of Cincinnati CAN before deciding whether to endorse a boycott, he said.

        “We want to give people some time,” the Rev. Mr. Wallace said. “If something is not forthcoming soon, then we'll reconsider our position.”

        The Rev. James W. Jones, the leading voice for the Combined Coalition for Justice and Equality, did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday, but in a Monday interview, he said it does not matter whether a specific group supports the boycott.

        He also said it doesn't matter whether the boycott causes measurable economic disruption.

        “We have principles on which we stand and if somebody downtown is worried about who's involved or how big we are, then we've already been successful,” he said.

        The Rev. Mr. Jones has declined to provide details about the supporting groups, individuals involved, or plans to enforce the boycott.

        Much of the secrecy is because some organizers say detailed information will be used against them.

        “Even the media is viewed as an investigative arm of the system,” the Rev. Mr. Jones said.

        The coalition has white and black members, all of whom potentially face criticism and retribution, he said.


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