Sunday, September 23, 2001

3rd mediation session promising, goals set

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They talked about change. They argued about the definitions of words such as “overhaul” and “revamp.”

        They celebrated inclusion.

        About 75 African-Americans spent half a day Saturday discussing ideas aimed at improving the communities' relationship with the Cincinnati Police.

   Goals for better police, community relations:
   • Increase respect and safety for the African-American community through elimination of racially biased practices by the Cincinnati Police Department.
   • Develop and foster greater understanding and positive interaction between the African-American community and Cincinnati Police.
   • Improve oversight, monitoring and accountability of the Cincinnati Police.
   • Reform the education process of Cincinnati police (this goal includes a definition of “reform.”)
   (These four goals were extracted from an original seven goals, the result of questionaires filled out by African-Americans. The 4 1/2-hour goals session Saturday was one step in a mediation process meant to end a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Cincinnati alleging racial discrimination.)
        The meeting was the third in a mediation series that is meant to touch everyone — blacks, whites, youth, businesses and religious organizations, police and city officials — and help bring a mediated end to a federal lawsuit against the city that accuses police of discriminating against blacks.

        Jay Rothman, a mediator from Yellow Springs, Ohio, is orchestrating the sessions.

        The idea is that each of the various groups will meet and hammer out a list of goals to improve police-community relations. Then representatives of each group will meet and try to find consensus.

        Points agreed upon will then be taken to the courtroom, where lawyers for both sides of the lawsuit will try to agree on systemic changes to the police department that will allow an end to the lawsuit.

        The African-American group started with seven goals and, after more than two hours of sometimes heated debate, agreed on four.

        Dwight Patton, a 49-year-old Avondale resident, will be a representative for the African-American group in later meetings. He wanted a fifth goal added — for the police to “serve the black community” — but his idea came about too late. It may be added later, when the process moves to the courtroom.

        Mr. Patton said the group spent so much time on wording because it is vital to say exactly what they mean.

        “We must have our objectives clearly defined so we wanted to make certain we came out of this with very clear language,” he said.

        Marla J. Taylor said she was most concerned about not using inflammatory language that would make city officials or police shut down the process. The 32-year-old College Hill resident said they did a good job at that.

        “We want to be heard, but we need to do it in a diplomatic way,” Ms. Taylor said. “I hope this helps.”

        Al Gerhardstein thinks it will. Mr. Gerhardstein is one of three lawyers who sued the city in March. He said any settlement would be fashioned on the goals of each group, along with practices at some of the best police departments in the country.

        The groups will finish meeting by the end of November, and the lawyers will take over the process in January.

        “We expect hard-core discussions,” with the city, Mr. Gerhardstein said. “But there are many positive changes we can make without jumping on the police department's head.”

        As the hour approached 2 p.m. — the scheduled end of the meeting — group leaders still hadn't agreed on their goals. The Rev. Damon Lynch III told them the worst thing that could happen is for the group not to have input.

        Rev. Mr. Lynch said he has faith in the mediation process.

        “This is the vehicle for change,” he said. “We've entered into this process in good faith, and I think the city and police will too.

        “When we start talking, I think we'll find we agree more than we disagree. Everybody wants what's best for Cincinnati.”


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- 3rd mediation session promising, goals set
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