Friday, July 27, 2001

She can forgive, but can't forget

Thomas' mother decries violence

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Angela Leisure visited her son's grave Wednesday, on what would have been his 20th birthday.

Angela Leisure
Angela Leisure
        The 34-year-old mother of six said afterward that she still mourns her son, Timothy Thomas, shot at age 19 while running from police. Mrs. Leisure said her mourning has broadened, though, to include the growing list of other victims of a crime wave sweeping Cincinnati.

        The violence, she said, disrespects the dead.

        “The cemetery is a city and it is forever growing,” Mrs. Leisure said Thursday. “I mourn not only for my son, but for all the people who have lost their lives over the past two months.”

        At least 11 people have died and 82 have been wounded in shootings throughout the city since Mr. Thomas' death April 7. Mr. Thomas was unarmed and fleeing police when Officer Stephen Roach shot him in the chest.

        This new violence — mostly involving young black men — is unnecessary, Mrs. Leisure said.

        “My son was calm, sweet and very nonviolent. He doesn't stand for anything that has been happening and wouldn't want his name associated with any of the violence.”

        Officer Roach has been indicted on two misdemeanors. If convicted, he could serve up to six months in jail for each.

        Mrs. Leisure forgives Officer Roach, partly because as a Christian "that's the only way I'm going to get into heaven,” she said.

        “It took a lot of prayer and soul-searching to forgive Officer Roach. The hardest thing a person can do in life is forgive someone who has taken a loved one away from you.”

        But forgiveness is not absolution — not for the police or the city, she said. Her family maintains its wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits against the city. And Officer Roach, she said, should still be held accountable for his actions, though that shouldn't include a long prison sentence.

        And forgiveness doesn't mean we should forget, she added.

        “We can't forget about the factors that brought us here,” she said.

        “There are still a lot of problems with our police department and our city officials. But we also need to realize that these problems weren't created and can't be solved overnight. The more you push and push and push, that's when the cause that got us to this point gets lost.”

        That is what she fears may happen if the boycotts of downtown Cincinnati some groups are calling for hit their mark.

        Ms. Leisure said she doesn't support or reject the boycotts, but she doesn't want “innocent people getting hurt, because that is already happening.”

        City officials and others who have repeated her words of forgiveness would be wise to remember the rest of what she says, she added. The recent spate of violence is a sign that “there is no real respect for police officers right now,” and city and community leaders must take steps to restore respect.

        “Not all officers are bad, just like not all black people are bad,” she said. “You can't judge all officers based on the actions of a few.”

        Mrs. Leisure, who works at Goodwill Industries with the mentally disabled, said positive interactions with at least two Cincinnati police officers — one who taught a computer class she recently took and another who patrols her neighborhood in Golf Manor — have convinced her of that.

        Though Mrs. Leisure has no family here and few friends since moving from Chicago in 1997, she said she has felt the entire city rally around her and her family, providing solace.

        “The city opened their arms and embraced us with words of encouragement and support,” Mrs. Leisure said.

        “They did whatever they could to help, especially when I cried out for peace after the riots. I felt privileged that the city gave me peace, especially at my son's funeral.”


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