Thursday, September 27, 2001

Anger is there, but chaos isn't

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Community anger echoed through four floors of City Hall on Wednesday.

        But the violence and chaos that arose after the shooting death of Timothy Thomas in April did not find its way into council chambers after a judge ruled that the officer who pulled the trigger was not guilty of negligent homicide or obstructing official business.

        Only the anger appeared.

[photo] Protestors shout at police after council suspended its session because of unruliness in council chambers at City Hall.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It is amazing to me that we want to continue to pretend that nothing is wrong in Over-the-Rhine,” Black United Front spokeswoman Juleana Frierson told council. “It is ridiculous to me. There is no leadership today.”

        She criticized city leaders for attempting to hold a regular City Council meeting about routine planning issues on a day when so many people were affected by a court decision.

        Nearly 150 people, young, old, black and white — some crying, some shaking their fists — punctuated her remarks with a long round of applause.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        “I'm in a lot of pain today,” said Over-the-Rhine resident Elaine Vincent, who described her neighborhood in the last year as having an open wound.

        One after another, residents shouted, spoke, accused and pleaded with council members to fix what they called a deep division between the police and the community.

        Council members did not discuss the verdict at length, but Councilman James Tarbell was jeered when he attempted to use the words of Timothy Thomas' mother to encourage peace.

        “We can do no better than acknowledge the comments of Angela Leisure,” he said.

        Councilman Phil Heimlich was also booed when he told residents that he supported the justice system and that many had condemned the officer before the system had a chance to work.

        “I am tired of these chambers being turned into some kangaroo court,” he said.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, leader of the Black United Front, told council that it had failed.

        “If you would just stand up and say this is unjust,” he told the council. Council members “sit on their hands because we don't want to upset” the police union.

        He used the World Trade Center collapse to illustrate what the community was feeling. In New York, he said, the mayor is considered a hero; not because of any particular action, but because he listened to the people.

        “You blew it today. Now drop back, punt and do it again. You should have spoken to your community,” he said.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said it's not that council doesn't speak, it's that some just don't like the message.

        “Here is my truth,” he said. “This city must find a way to respect one another's opinion. We must find a way to respect the due process of law.”

        If not, he said, “We are nothing.”

        He said the city has attempted to deal with police-community relations, including asking for a federal investigation of the police division, working to settle a federal racial-profiling lawsuit against the city, adopting legislation against racial profiling and spending money for community development.

        Residents who didn't speak held signs ranging from obscene neon posters to small handbills with statements about Officer Stephen Roach such as, “You heard right. Roach is Free,” and “He walks. Timothy doesn't.”

        While the speeches carried the same depth of emotion as they did five months ago when protesters took over a council meeting and set the stage for days of riots, council chambers on Wednesday resembled a forum.

        “We really don't like what you are accepting from the police,” said Cincinnati resident Keith Walker, who outlined several run-ins with police that he said were racially motivated. “It's a wonderful day in the city, or so you think.”

        Unlike in April, council members listened to speakers without interruption. Residents never pushed to the front of council chambers; the dais where council members sit had been reconfigured. Mayor Luken established rules for behavior and followed them.

        Only once did the mayor halt the meeting, after the audience shouted over a speaker who said she supported the police.

        “We have allowed things to get too far,” Westwood resident Melva Gweyn said after the meeting. “They talk about wanting dialogue in this city, but they don't want to hear any opposing views.”

        Even when police officers formed a line in front of council members, citizens didn't test their resolve. They shouted and chanted, but made no attempt to take over the chambers. While six council members left the chamber during the recess, council members Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and Alicia Reece remained in their seats.

        “City Hall is a venue for everybody,” Ms. Reece said. “If people need to vent, then I can take it. ... I'm willing to listen.”

Curfew to remain through Friday
Roach not guilty; city under curfew
Acquittals based on self-defense
Anger, fear, sadness felt on streets after verdict
- Anger is there, but chaos isn't
Experts' opinions sealed verdict
Lynch: Ruling 'sets us back'
PULFER: Turmoil of April finally over - or is it?
Q & A
Text of Judge Winkler verdict
Then and now: Race relations
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