Friday, August 17, 2001

Youths look for answers

Session turnout low, but quality high

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a disappointing, but not altogether unexpected turnout, 27 youths attended a session Thursday designed to prioritize goals to improve police-community relations.

        The session, at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, was the second in a series of eight, which are part of an unprecedented mediation effort to settle a federal lawsuit accusing the city of decades of discrimination against blacks.

[photo] Keith Smith, 16, of Roselawn, discusses ideas for better police-community relations Thursday evening as part of a youth session at the convention center.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        “We knew this was the hardest stakeholder group to get to,” said Brooke Hill, spokeswoman for the Aria Group, the conflict resolution firm leading the mediation process.

        That is why the Aria team spent weeks canvassing neighborhoods and visiting community centers and schools to reach out to a group they knew would likely not come into the process without a lot of encouragement.

        “Wherever they were we went to them,” Ms. Hill said. “And to get them to come to a big setting like this, it was probably a little intimidating.”

        Aria professionals had hoped that between 75 and 100 youths would attend the session. About 120 had agreed to attend and all were sent reminder letters and were telephoned.

        “The eloquence and the understanding of these kids is really fabulous,” said Jay Rothman, president of the Aria Group. He said what the group lacked in quantity, “we made up for it in quality.”

        The youths, ages 14 to 25, met in small groups to share their stories about why they believe better police-community relations are important. The stories were telling, Ms. Hill said.

   Here is a list of goals that a group of youth chose Thursday night to improve police-community relations:
   • Establish and maintain positive interaction and communication between the police and the community.
   • Build greater understanding and cooperation within and between communities and with the police.
   • Develop fairness and respect between the police force and the community.
   • Promote trust and decrease confrontation and violence to ensure safety.
   • Invest in self-help community education and development.
        “It is disappointing we had a low turnout, but what you are getting are from the people who really care,” she said.

        After an hour of sharing their stories, the group prioritized five goals, ways to achieve that better police-community relationship. They ranged from building greater cooperation and understanding to promoting trust and decreasing confrontation.

        Eric Burns, 17, of Finneytown told his small group about his brother being a police officer. The officer was present when the protests and riots erupted in Over-the-Rhine April 9-12.

        “He was scared when he was down there,” Mr. Burns said.

        The tension between blacks and whites has affected Mr. Burns himself, too, he said.

        “There was never an issue,” he explained of the relationship he has had with his African-American friends since he was a young child.

        “When the riots happened, everything started to change. They had different views. It was an eye-opener. People you know for so long can be totally different.”

        Margie Wells-Davis, who is in charge of the facilitators involved in the mediation process, said she was impressed by the quality of the responses.

        “The kids were involved,” she said. “They were passionate. They said some wise stuff.”

        Aria Group officials are still accepting surveys. The next session for feedback will be for police scheduled Aug. 29. One for African-Americans over 25 years old will be Sept. 5. Sessions for additional groups including businesses, other minorities, city officials and others will follow.

       To participate in the mediation process, fill out a survey online at


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