Thursday, September 20, 2001
Racial issues examined
Forum discusses justice topics
By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A group of prominent Cincinnati criminal-justice officials discussed what they perceive to be the merits and shortcomings of the American legal system Wednesday night at a small gathering in Clifton.
The use of excessive force by police and the disproportionately high incarceration rate for African-American males were at the top of the list of problems discussed during the Racial Justice Teach-In held at St. John's Unitarian Church.
The panelists including Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen and Cincinnati civil rights lawyer Al Gerhardstein sometimes disagreed about the causes and effects of what many blacks perceive to be a discriminatory criminal-justice system.
But all agreed that no area in American life is more volatile than underlying perceptions of racial injustice in the administration of criminal law.
That was apparent from the questions and commentary from an overwhelmingly white audience of about 75 people who participated in the nearly two-hour discussion session.
I really believe that we have a fear problem here (in Cincinnati), said Bud Haupt, 70, of Clifton. I really believe blacks fear cops, and cops fear blacks.
Much of the audience's often critical questioning was directed at Mr. Allen and concerned his handling of allegations of police misconduct before and after the April riots spurred by the shooting death of an unarmed black man fleeing police.
One man criticized Mr. Allen for not indicting officers involved in an April 14 bean-bag shooting of peaceful protesters.
Mr. Allen's response: "I saw no credible evidence that a criminal event took place.
His answer drew muffled sighs of disbelief, and exchanges of incredulous looks among audience members.
Other audience members expressed concern about such issues as the lack of racial balance on juries in many drug cases where defendants are overwhelmingly black. Others claimed blacks are targeted more for arrest and that prosecutors are more aggressive about putting them in jail.
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